Top Doctors Q&A: Malaz A. Boustani

Geriatric Medicine • Professor of aging research and medical director, Eskenazi’s Healthy Aging Brain Center

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What have we learned lately about the aging brain?
It’s very, very sensitive to the side effects of medication. Certain medications that we assumed were safe are actually, we’re discovering, not safe for your brain. They have adverse cognitive effects.

Which medications?
One class is anticholinergic agents, found in things like Benadryl and Paxil. Another is H2 antagonists, found in products such as Zantac and used to counter stomach-ache and heartburn. The third are benzodiazepines, a class of psychoactive drugs found in Ativan and Xanax, among others. Depending on how much cause and effect we can prove, we’re talking about facilitating
or causing serious neuro-degeneration.

Should we stop taking these medications?
The scientific answer is that most of the studies we have right now included only subjects 65 and older. So theoretically you shouldn’t generalize it to a younger population. But personally, I don’t take any of these medications or recommend them to my family members.

Can Alzheimer’s ever be cured?
Can we solve it in the same way we solve heart disease or diabetes, in which a lot of people live with the ailment and enjoy a good quality of life? Absolutely. We already do. If the question is, can we cure Alzheimer’s—we can’t prevent 100 percent of heart disease or 100 percent of diabetes, and I don’t think we’ll ever be able to prevent Alzheimer’s. Are we going to have some drug therapy in the next 10 years that might slow it down or reduce one’s risk of developing it? Yes, I’m optimistic.

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