6. Parkinson's drugs (Dopamine agonists)
Why they are prescribed: These drugs are used to treat Parkinson's disease, certain pituitary tumors and, increasingly, restless legs syndrome (RLS).
Examples: Apomorphine (Apokyn), pramipexole (Mirapex) and ropinirole (Requip).
How they can cause memory loss: These meds activate signaling pathways for dopamine, a chemical messenger involved in many brain functions, including motivation, the experience of pleasure, fine motor control, learning and memory. As a result, major side effects can include memory loss, confusion, delusions, hallucinations, drowsiness and compulsive behaviors such as overeating and gambling.
Alternatives: If you are being treated for RLS, ask your doctor or pharmacist whether one of your prescription or over-the-counter medications may be the trigger. Potential culprits include many antinausea and antiseizure medications, antipsychotic drugs with tranquilizing effects, some antidepressants, and some cold and allergy medications. In this case, your RLS — and memory problems — could potentially be resolved by simply replacing the offending medication with another drug.
7. Hypertension drugs (Beta-blockers)
Why they are prescribed: Beta-blockers slow the heart rate and lower blood pressure and typically are prescribed for high blood pressure, congestive heart failure and abnormal heart rhythms. They're also used to treat chest pain (angina), migraines, tremors and, in eyedrop form, certain types of glaucoma.
Examples: Atenolol (Tenormin), carvedilol (Coreg), metoprolol (Lopressor, Toprol), propranolol (Inderal), sotalol (Betapace), timolol (Timoptic) and some other drugs whose chemical names end with "-olol."
How they can cause memory loss: Beta-blockers are thought to cause memory problems by interfering with ("blocking") the action of key chemical messengers in the brain, including norepinephrine and epinephrine.
Alternatives: If the beta-blocker is being used to treat glaucoma, I recommend talking with your health care professional about potentially using a carbonic anhydrase inhibitor, such as dorzolamide (Trusopt), instead.
8. Sleeping aids (Nonbenzodiazepine sedative-hypnotics)
Why they are prescribed: Sometimes called the "Z" drugs, these medications are used to treat insomnia and other sleep problems. They also are prescribed for mild anxiety.
Examples: Eszopiclone (Lunesta), zaleplon (Sonata) and zolpidem (Ambien).
How they can cause memory loss: Although these are molecularly distinct from benzodiazepines (see No. 1 above), they act on many of the same brain pathways and chemical messengers, producing similar side effects and problems with addiction and withdrawal.
The "Z" drugs also can cause amnesia and sometimes trigger dangerous or strange behaviors, such as cooking a meal or driving a car — with no recollection of the event upon awakening.
Alternatives: There are alternative drug and nondrug treatments for insomnia and anxiety, so talk with your health care professional about options. Melatonin, in doses from 3 to 10 mg before bedtime, for instance, sometimes helps to reestablish healthy sleep patterns.
Before stopping or reducing the dosage of these sleeping aids, be sure to consult your health care professional. Sudden withdrawal can cause serious side effects, so a health professional should always monitor the process.
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