dementiaWhen elderly individuals have a cold, experience allergies, suffer urinary incontinence, deal with asthma, or cope with sleeping problems, it’s common to reach for the medicine cabinet to alleviate discomfort in symptoms. But new research suggests that you might want to think first before downing medication. A recently conducted study has found that some of the more common cold and allergy medicine available on the market can cause shrinking in the brain, and can ultimately lead to dementia.

According to WebMD, a small Indiana University study found that people using “anticholinergic medications” did more poorly on cognitive-related tests and had small brain sizes compared to elderly individuals who didn’t take them.

While previous studies have found this link before, the researchers say that this might be the first time that their effect at blocking acetylcholine, a brain chemical, has been demonstrated.

“These findings provide us with a much better understanding of how this class of drugs may act upon the brain in ways that might raise the risk of cognitive impairment and dementia,” says Shannon Risacher, Ph.D., assistant professor of radiology and imaging sciences, in a statement.

The study participants involved 451 seniors with an average age of 73.3 years, 60 of whom were taking at least one medication from this class of drugs. Some anticholinergic medications include Benadryl, Demerol, Dimetapp, Dramamine, Paxil, and Unisom.

“Given all the research evidence, physicians might want to consider alternatives to anticholinergic medications if available when working with their older patients,” Risacher says.

This information could be vital for elder care caregivers. Currently, Alzheimer’s is the leading sixth cause of death in the United States and is the only top ten causes of death that cannot be slowed, cured, or prevented. And with one in three seniors passing away from some form of dementia, senior care professionals should be diligent in helping seniors live as healthily and fully as possible.