The effects of anticholinergic medications on cognition in children: a systematic review and meta-analysis

Erica Ghezzi, Michelle P. Y. Chan, Lisa M. Kalisch Ellett, Tyler J. Ross, Kathryn Richardson, Jun Ni Ho, Dayna Copley, Claire Steele, Hannah A. D. Keage

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Cognitive side effects of anticholinergic medications in older adults are well documented. Whether these poor cognitive outcomes are observed in children has not been systematically investigated. We aimed to conduct a systematic review and meta-analysis on the associations between anticholinergic medication use and cognitive performance in children. Systematic review was conducted using Medline, PsychInfo, and Embase, identifying studies testing cognitive performance relative to the presence versus absence of anticholinergic medication(s) in children. We assessed effects overall, as well as relative to drug class, potency (low and high), cognitive domain, and duration of administration. The systematic search identified 46 articles suitable for meta-analysis. For the most part, random effects meta-analyses did not identify statistically significant associations between anticholinergic exposure and cognitive performance in children; the one exception was a small effect of anticholinergic anti-depressants being associated with better cognitive function (Hedges’ g = 0.24, 95% CI 0.06–0.42, p = 0.01). Anticholinergic medications do not appear to be associated with poor cognitive outcomes in children, as they do in older adults. The discrepancy in findings with older adults may be due to shorter durations of exposure in children, differences in study design (predominantly experimental studies in children rather than predominantly epidemiological in older adults), biological ageing (e.g. blood brain barrier integrity), along with less residual confounding due to minimal polypharmacy and comorbidity in children.
Original languageEnglish
Article number219
JournalScientific Reports
Publication statusPublished - 8 Jan 2021

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