medication spilling from bottle. Various other medications out of focus in background
Julie Hambleton
Julie Hambleton
May 15, 2024 ·  4 min read

Side Effects of Common Medications Are Being Mistaken for ‘Old Age’

Medications play a crucial role in treating various health conditions, but what if those medications start mimicking signs of old age and dementia? Many people are unaware that certain medications can interfere with cognitive functions, leading to symptoms that may be mistaken for old age or even dementia. It’s essential to raise awareness about the potential side effects of commonly prescribed medications and to understand what is and isn’t normal in the aging process.

Medications Mimicking Signs of Old Age and Dementia

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The use of medications, while often beneficial, can sometimes lead to cognitive side effects that mimic signs of old age and dementia. For instance, patients have reported memory disturbances, attention problems, language issues, and other cognitive-related but reversible side effects related to their medication intake. It’s critical for healthcare providers and patients to be aware of such potential effects to prevent misdiagnosis and unnecessary distress.

Read More: 6 Common Medications That Can Cause Permanent Side Effects in Children

Medications and Their Old-Age-Mimicking Side Effects

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As mentioned already, there have been several doctors who have noticed side effects from various medications that mimic symptoms of old age and dementia. These are often memory and cognition-related. When the doctor changes their medication, the symptoms then disappear. The problem is if the practitioner is not aware of this, they may mistake the patient for simply getting older, or worse, for having a serious cognitive decline condition such as dementia. (1)

“I’m sorry, when did you say our next appointment is?” asked my patient. We’d already finished scheduling several minutes earlier and I was surprised to hear this question repeated not only once but twice before we ended the day’s appointment,” wrote Dr. James Ellison. “When I brought the repetition to my patient’s attention, she said her husband had recently told her she was also repeating questions to him. I wasn’t sure whether I was witnessing the beginning of a significant memory disturbance, a problem with attention, or possibly the reversible side effects of a new sleeping pill that the patient had obtained over the counter in a local pharmacy. She was concerned too! When we stopped her sleeping pill and worked on non-medication ways to improve sleep, an extra benefit for her was memory improvement.” (2)

In this situation, and others that Dr. Ellison and other practitioners have recounted, the outcome could have been much different if the practitioner wasn’t aware of the possible medication side effects. The following are medications that may cause old-age like symptoms (3):

1. Medications that Block the Effects of Acetylcholine

Benztropine is a medication that is used to treat symptoms of Parkinson's disease and side effects of antipsychotic medications. It le form.
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Some medications with anticholinergic properties have been linked to cognitive difficulties. They can lead to symptoms such as confusion, memory disturbance, agitation, and delirium. Examples of such medications include tolterodine, certain antidepressants, antipsychotics, and antispasmodics.

2. Anxiety and Insomnia Medications

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Benzodiazepines used to treat anxiety and insomnia, such as lorazepam and alprazolam, have been associated with sedation and mental slowing. Prolonged use of these medications has even been suggested as a potential risk factor for later dementia.

3. Corticosteroids

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While essential in some cases, corticosteroids can induce delirium, mood changes, and psychotic symptoms, which can be mistaken for signs of cognitive decline.

Read More: 10 of The Most Terrifying Drug Side Effects

4. Pain Medications

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Opioids, commonly used for pain relief, have been found to have deleterious effects on short-term memory.

5. Chemotherapy Drugs

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Certain anticancer chemotherapeutic agents can lead to cognitive changes known as “chemo brain,” affecting attention, working memory, and executive function.

6. Statins

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There is ongoing debate about the potential impact of cholesterol-lowering statins on mental slowing and memory problems. While some case reports suggest interference with cognition, larger studies have not confirmed this effect.

Read More: 14 Chemotherapy Side Effects No One Talks About & Natural Treatments

Understanding Old Age and What Is and Isn’t Normal

Taking the questions out of medication. Shot of a young pharmacist helping an elderly customer.
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As people age, it’s important to differentiate between normal signs of aging and those that may result from medication side effects. The aging body’s reduced ability to metabolize drugs and the increased likelihood of drug interactions can amplify the adverse effects of medications. Furthermore, the aging brain has less protective cognitive reserve, making it more vulnerable to the side effects of certain medications. Understanding these complexities is key to recognizing and effectively managing the potential cognitive impacts of medications in older adults.

The Bottom Line

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The recognition that certain medications can mimic signs of old age and dementia is paramount for healthcare providers and patients alike. It is essential to have open and honest discussions with healthcare professionals about the potential cognitive side effects of medications, particularly for older adults taking multiple medications. By raising awareness and understanding the implications of medication use, we can better identify and address cognitive changes related to medications, potentially preventing unnecessary distress and misdiagnosis.

While medications are indispensable for managing various health conditions, their potential cognitive side effects should not be overlooked, especially in the context of aging. Open communication and close monitoring of medication effects are essential for ensuring the proper management of cognitive changes in older individuals.

Read More: What Are MRI Contrasts, and Do They Have Side Effects?


  1. Drug effects may mimic dementia.” Journals. April 2006.
  2. Medications That Can Mimic Dementia.” Bright Focus. James M. Ellison, MD, MPH. January 9, 2023.
  3. Drug-induced cognitive impairment in the elderly.” Pubmed. A R Moore andS T O’Keeffe. July 1999.