Objectives: to determine the effect of drugs with anti-cholinergic properties on relevant health outcomes.
Design: electronic published and unpublished literature/trial registries were systematically reviewed. Studies evaluating medications with anti-cholinergic activity on cognitive function, delirium, physical function or mortality were eligible.
Results: forty-six studies including 60,944 participants were included. Seventy-seven percent of included studies evaluating cognitive function (n = 33) reported a significant decline in cognitive ability with increasing anti-cholinergic load (P < 0.05). Four of five included studies reported no association with delirium and increasing anti-cholinergic drug load (P > 0.05). Five of the eight included studies reported a decline in physical function in users of anti-cholinergics (P < 0.05). Three of nine studies evaluating mortality reported that the use of drugs with anti-cholinergic properties was associated with a trend towards increased mortality, but this was not statistically significant. The methodological quality of the evidence-base ranged from poor to very good.
Conclusion: medicines with anti-cholinergic properties have a significant adverse effect on cognitive and physical function, but limited evidence exists for delirium or mortality outcomes.
Keywords: adverse effect; anti-cholinergic; anti-muscarinic; cholinergic antagonist; cognition; function; mortality; older people; systematic review.
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