Effects of anticholinergic drugs on cognitive function in older Australians: results from the AIBL study

Dement Geriatr Cogn Disord. 2011;31(3):173-8. doi: 10.1159/000325171. Epub 2011 Mar 9.


Background/aims: The nature and extent of adverse cognitive effects due to the prescription of anticholinergic drugs in older people with and without dementia is unclear.

Methods: We calculated the anticholinergic load (ACL) of medications taken by participants of the Australian Imaging, Biomarkers and Lifestyle (AIBL) study of ageing, a cohort of 211 Alzheimer's disease (AD) patients, 133 mild cognitive impairment (MCI) patients and 768 healthy controls (HC) all aged over 60 years. The association between ACL and cognitive function was examined for each diagnostic group (HC, MCI, AD).

Results: A high ACL within the HC group was associated with significantly slower response speeds for the Stroop color and incongruent trials. No other significant relationships between ACL and cognition were noted.

Conclusion: In this large cohort, prescribed anticholinergic drugs appeared to have modest effects upon psychomotor speed and executive function, but not on other areas of cognition in healthy older adults.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aging / drug effects*
  • Aging / physiology
  • Alzheimer Disease / complications
  • Alzheimer Disease / drug therapy*
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Cholinergic Antagonists / adverse effects*
  • Cholinergic Antagonists / classification
  • Cholinergic Antagonists / therapeutic use
  • Cognition / drug effects*
  • Cognition / physiology
  • Cognition Disorders / chemically induced*
  • Cognition Disorders / drug therapy
  • Cohort Studies
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Polypharmacy*
  • Reference Values
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Single-Blind Method


  • Cholinergic Antagonists