PTSD drugs increase risk of dementia, study indicates

PTSD photo

Researchers are discovering that post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a significant risk factor in developing dementia and that the drugs used to treat PTSD may also be risk factors. Medications commonly prescribed include including antidepressants, antipsychotics, sedatives, or tranquilizers.

In a new study, published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, researchers examined information from 3,139,780 veterans aged 56 and older. At the beginning of the study, in 2003, the veterans were receiving health care from a Veterans Health Administration facility. Almost all the veterans were male and 82% were white.

Of the veterans in the study, 5.4% had been diagnosed with PTSD. As the researchers looked at the data over the study’s nine-year follow-up period, they also included veterans who were diagnosed with dementia, a memory problem that affects a person’s ability to carry out usual tasks that often requires care in a nursing home or long-term care facility.

In this study, researchers discovered that taking certain antidepressants, tranquilizers, sedatives, or antipsychotic medications significantly increased veterans’ risks for developing dementia compared to the risks for veterans who didn’t take such medications.

Medicines that significantly increased dementia risk included:

  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs);
  • Novel antidepressants; and
  • Atypical antipsychotics.

The increase in the risk of dementia for veterans taking the drugs was the same whether or not they were diagnosed with PTSD, compared to veterans who weren’t taking these drugs.

What’s more, veterans who used three classes of medications were also more likely to be diagnosed with dementia whether or not they had PTSD. These medicines include:

  • Novel antidepressants;
  • Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs); and
  • Benzodiazepines.

The researchers noted that an interaction among these “psychoactive” drugs could potentially affect how PTSD impacts a person’s risk for developing dementia. The researchers concluded that further research should be conducted to learn more about PTSD and psychoactive drugs, including dosage, how long to take the medications, and which people could most benefit from them.


About the Author

Truman Lewis
Truman has been a bureau chief and correspondent in D.C., Los Angeles, Phoenix and elsewhere, reporting for radio, television, print and news services, for more than 30 years. Most recently, he has reported extensively on health and consumer issues for and