Question: Is there a link between Benadryl® and dementia risk?

Benadryl® blocks the actions of a chemical called acetylcholine in the nervous system, which has diverse actions depending on the site. In the brain, acetylcholine is involved in learning and memory. Older adults may be more sensitive to Benadryl’s® effects in the brain because of age-related changes causing the medicine to stay in the body longer and more drug to reach the brain.

The general view is that medication-caused memory problems is reversible when the medication is stopped, but new evidence is linking long-term use to increased risks of dementia.

What does the research say?

Several studies have found a link between the class Benadryl® belongs to and dementia. While research has not found a definitive link between Benadryl® use and dementia, findings in the last few years have been pointing toward an correlation between dementia and long-term use of Benadryl in older adults.

Should I stop taking Benadryl®?

Current research has yet to link Benadryl® use to the risk of developing dementia. Because Benadryl® belongs to a class of medications which shows possible link to dementia, it is best avoided in the those over 65. Benadryl® also increases the likelihood of falling, blurry vision, and urinary problems.

Newer medications such as Zyrtec®, Claritin®, and Allegra® have minimal serious safety concerns. They do not cause sedation and have no risks associated with developing dementia. Therefore, these options are preferred for older adults.

If you and your healthcare provider agree that you should continue taking Benadryl®, you can follow these tips to lower your potential risk of dementia.

  • Take the lowest effective dose for the shortest time
  • Be aware of increased sensitivity to Benadryl® if you are older
  • Benadryl® is not intended to be used as a daily long-term medication for sleep (It can actually worsen sleep quality in the long run!)
  • Ask a pharmacist or provider about potential alternatives if concerned

Prepared by David Ferreira PharmD Candidate 2021