If seniors didn’t have enough to worry about concerning their health, a study out of Germany suggests that popular and widely used heartburn medications show a possible rise in the risk of senior’s developing dementia.

The medications in question are proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) and drugs in this particular group include the popular medications Prevacid, Prilosec and Nexium. These medications reduce stomach acids by notable amounts, as well as treat a variety of other gastrointestinal ailments such as peptic ulcer disease to GERD.

Study Shows PPIs like Prevacid, Prilosec and Nexium May be Associated with Dementia

The study, “Association of Proton Pump Inhibitors With Risk of Dementia: A Pharmacoepidemiological Claims Data Analysis,” was conducted by the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases in Bonn, Germany and published in the journal JAMA Neurology.  Since PPIs are one of the drugs frequently prescribed, especially for the elderly, with their use on the rise, this is an important study.

Coauthor of the study, Britta Haenisch, PhD, noted, “Unfortunately, over prescribing of PPIs is reported frequently and according to some research, up to 70% of all PPI prescriptions could be inappropriate. In general, clinicians should follow guidelines for PPI prescription to avoid overprescribing PPIs and inappropriate use.”

Participants in the study were pulled from Germany’s largest mandatory health insurer, which insures up to 50-percent of the country’s senior population. The insurer’s database held information on each person’s medical prescriptions and diagnoses.

The study contained 73,679 participants 75-years-old and older that did not have dementia. Data from the study ran from 2004 to 2011, which included diagnoses and prescriptions. During the course of the study, 29,510 participants received a diagnosis of dementia and 59-percent received a diagnosis of having at least two different forms of dementia.

Risk Increased Over 44%

Of the participants in the study, approximately 2,950 were regular users of PPIs. The study found that these regular PPI users had an increased risk of developing dementia by 44-percent over those that did not use PPIs.

The study defined regular use as one prescription each quarter of omeprazole, pantoprazole, lansoprazole, esomeprazole, or rabeprazole.

In the editorial, “Do Proton Pump Inhibitors Increase the Risk of Dementia” and published in the same journal, Lewis H. Kuller, MD, DrPH, from the Graduate School of Public Health, Department of Epidemiology, University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, noted, “That the reported association of PPI use and dementia may not, in fact, be causal, but instead related to polypharmacy itself, as the number of drugs taken may be a function of the extent of disease and comorbidities.”

Dr. Kuller also noted, “That even a relatively small increased risk for dementia could translate into many more people in the population having dementia.” For example, he writes, “A 1.4-fold increased risk, as suggested by the study, would increase the estimated incidence rate of dementia from 6.0% to about 8.4% per year.”

“In the United States, 13.5 million people are in the 75- to 84-year-old age bracket. If 3% of them were receiving PPIs, this could result in an increase of about 10,000 new cases of incident dementia per year in this age group alone,” stated Dr. Kuller. “Older people, said Dr. Kuller, often take many drugs, which may reflect the extent of disease and comorbidities. Specific drugs may be associated with both PPI use and dementia.” said Dr. Kuller.

Concerning Dr. Kuller’s editorial, the authors of the study stated, “He has provided an important and interesting challenge” to evaluate the possible association between PPI use and dementia risk. Their study raises the issue of “whether a careful evaluation of cognitive changes and/or neuropathology should be a component of the evaluation of drugs that are widely used among the elderly,” he concludes.

Proper nutrition, weight loss and stress reduction may naturally help heartburn sufferers. Some herbal/holistic remedies are also effective. If you are seeking alternative ways to reduce heartburn and discomfort, please make an appointment with our office today!


The JAMA Network: Association of Proton Pump Inhibitors With Risk of Dementia: A Pharmacoepidemiological Claims Data Analysis


The JAMA Network: Do Proton Pump Inhibitors Increase the Risk of Dementia


Medscape: Proton Pump Inhibitors Linked to Dementia


Forbes: Proton Pump Inhibitor Use Linked to Increase Risk of Dementia