Effects of commonly prescribed drugs on cognition and mild cognitive impairment in healthy elderly people

J Psychopharmacol. 2019 Aug;33(8):965-974. doi: 10.1177/0269881119857206. Epub 2019 Jun 26.


Background: Chronic drug intake has been associated with negative and positive cognitive effects in elderly people, although subjacent conditions may be confounding factors.

Aim: To study the effects on cognitive performance of commonly prescribed medications in a cohort of cognitively normal older adults.

Methods: Medication intake was recorded during two years in 1087 individuals 70-85 years old, without neurological or psychiatric conditions. The influence of every drug, drug family and therapeutic group on six cognitive scores and on the conversion to mild cognitive impairment over two years was ascertained by cross-sectional and longitudinal analyses controlling for demographic and clinical variables.

Results: Small effects of several drugs on information processing were found in cross-sectional analyses but only confirmed for a positive effect of vitamin D in case-control analyses. Longitudinal analyses showed no drug effects on the cognitive slopes. Several hypotensive drugs reduced, whereas bromazepam and glucose lowering drugs increased, the conversion rate to mild cognitive impairment with very small effects (R2=0.3-1%).

Conclusions: Cognitively healthy elderly individuals show minimal negative effects on information processing associated with chronic intake of some drugs probably related to the subjacent condition. Some drugs slightly affect the rate of conversion to mild cognitive impairment. Positive effects of vitamin D, chondroitin, atorvastatin and antihypertensive drugs, and negative effects of antidepressants and benzodiazepines, should be further explored in studies with longer follow-up.

Keywords: Chronic drug intake; aging; cognitive function; mild cognitive impairment; polypharmacy.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Cognition / drug effects*
  • Cognition Disorders / chemically induced*
  • Cognitive Dysfunction / chemically induced*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Prescription Drugs / adverse effects*
  • Vitamin D / administration & dosage


  • Prescription Drugs
  • Vitamin D