Anticholinergic burden (prognostic factor) for prediction of dementia or cognitive decline in older adults with no known cognitive syndrome

Martin Taylor-Rowan, Sophie Edwards, Anna H. Noel-Storr, Jenny McCleery, Phyo K. Myint, Roy Soiza, Carrie Stewart, Yoon K. Loke, Terry J. Quinn

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Background: Medications with anticholinergic properties are commonly prescribed to older adults. The cumulative anticholinergic effect of all the medications a person takes is referred to as the 'anticholinergic burden' because of its potential to cause adverse effects. It is possible that high anticholinergic burden may be a risk factor for development of cognitive decline or dementia. There are various scales available to measure anticholinergic burden but agreement between them is often poor. Objectives: To assess whether anticholinergic burden, as defined at the level of each individual scale, is a prognostic factor for future cognitive decline or dementia in cognitively unimpaired older adults. Search methods: We searched the following databases from inception to 24 March 2021: MEDLINE (OvidSP), Embase (OvidSP), PsycINFO (OvidSP), CINAHL (EBSCOhost), and ISI Web of Science Core Collection (ISI Web of Science). Selection criteria: We included prospective and retrospective longitudinal cohort and case-control observational studies with a minimum of one year' follow-up that examined the association between an anticholinergic burden measurement scale and future cognitive decline or dementia in cognitively unimpaired older adults. Data collection and analysis: Two review authors independently assessed studies for inclusion, and undertook data extraction, assessment of risk of bias, and GRADE assessment. We extracted odds ratios (OR) and hazard ratios, with 95% confidence intervals (CI), and linear data on the association between anticholinergic burden and cognitive decline or dementia. We intended to pool each metric separately; however, only OR-based data were suitable for pooling via a random-effects meta-analysis. We initially established adjusted and unadjusted pooled rates for each available anticholinergic scale; then, as an exploratory analysis, established pooled rates on the prespecified association across scales. We examined variability based on severity of anticholinergic burden. Main results: We identified 25 studies that met our inclusion criteria (968,428 older adults). Twenty studies were conducted in the community care setting, two in primary care clinics, and three in secondary care settings. Eight studies (320,906 participants) provided suitable data for meta-analysis. The Anticholinergic Cognitive Burden scale (ACB scale) was the only scale with sufficient data for 'scale-based' meta-analysis. Unadjusted ORs suggested an increased risk for cognitive decline or dementia in older adults with an anticholinergic burden (OR 1.47, 95% CI 1.09 to 1.96) and adjusted ORs similarly suggested an increased risk for anticholinergic burden, defined according to the ACB scale (OR 2.63, 95% CI 1.09 to 6.29). Exploratory analysis combining adjusted ORs across available scales supported these results (OR 2.16, 95% CI 1.38 to 3.38), and there was evidence of variability in risk based on severity of anticholinergic burden (ACB scale 1: OR 2.18, 95% CI 1.11 to 4.29; ACB scale 2: OR 2.71, 95% CI 2.01 to 3.56; ACB scale 3: OR 3.27, 95% CI 1.41 to 7.61); however, overall GRADE evaluation of certainty of the evidence was low. Authors' conclusions: There is low-certainty evidence that older adults without cognitive impairment who take medications with anticholinergic effects may be at increased risk of cognitive decline or dementia.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberCD013540
JournalCochrane Library
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 5 May 2021

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