SUMAYYA
16 September 2022
Medically reviewed by
Kajal Jain
M. Pharm
does-ambien-cause-dementia
Table of Contents

Sleep disorders such as insomnia are common but significant health issues Americans face yearly. It may sound usual, but insomnia can lead to severe consequences like depression, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. Busy lifestyles and constant stimulation may contribute to widespread sleep problems.

Many people, including doctors and researchers, seek a reliable remedy for sleep disorders, and prescriptions like Ambien are relatively new after being indicated for depression. Are they viable treatments, and what happens when you use the drug for a long time?

Here we study the relationship between Ambien and psychological disorders such as dementia.

Insomnia usually occurs when a person has difficulty falling asleep or repeatedly wakes up at night. Ambien minimizes the time taken to fall asleep and increases sleep duration. As with all sedative-hypnotic drugs, it is essential to fully understand the drug's potential side effects, warnings, and drug interactions before taking the medication.

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What Is Dementia?

According to WHO, Dementia is a syndrome for impaired cognitive ability, i.e., to think, remember, or make decisions that interfere with regular activities. Though dementia affects older adults, it is not a part of normal aging. An estimated five million adults of at least 65 years who suffered from dementia in 2014 are projected to be around 14 million by 2060.

The healthcare practitioner can test memory, attention, problem-solving, and other cognitive abilities to check the cause for concern. Physical examinations, blood tests, and brain scans like MRI or CT scans can help determine its underlying cause.

The signs and symptoms of dementia include-

  • Forgetting old memories
  • Using unusual words for the familiar objects
  • Not being able to complete tasks independently
  • Forgetting the name of your dear ones
  • Getting lost in a friendly neighborhood

How Does Ambien Work?

Ambien belongs to the class called sedative-hypnotics. Taking this drug allows the body and brain to relax by slowing activity in the brain. It increases the action of the GABA neurotransmitter that is responsible for causing sleepiness. Increasing its activity helps you fall asleep. The depressant qualities of Ambien result in the following:

  • Unsteady balance
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Unusual dreams
  • Lightheadedness 

How Does Ambien Affect The Brain?

Ambien is a CNS depressant that slows down brain activity. Most depressants similarly affect the brain, i.e., they increase the action of GABA neurotransmitters, slowing down brain activity and producing a relaxing effect. Ambien works quickly, usually in approximately 20 minutes, but it is most effective in sustaining sleep in its controlled-release form. 

Despite being an effective drug, Ambien also has severe side effects. Ambien causes memory loss problems in some individuals and can even cause a person to perform activities during sleep, i.e., sleepwalking, sleep-driving, or sleep-cooking, which is a dangerous side effect. A person should immediately stop taking Ambien if they suspect engaging in any such activity during sleep and contact their doctor about the same.

The National Center for Biotechnical Technology published a study that showed a dose of 20 milligrams of Ambien caused volunteers to experience impairment in specific psychomotor tests, such as word recall, six hours after taking the medication. 

Also, mixing Ambien with alcohol can cause severe drowsiness, which could be dangerous. This combination is, therefore, not recommended. Also, seek advice from the medical practitioner if you are taking Ambien with other CNS depressant drugs such as benzodiazepines or antihistamines. 

When treated, the danger of permanent memory loss from Ambien is significantly less severe. If you go through a recovery process with trained medical professionals, you can expect the body to go through a healing process, which includes the risk associated with memory loss.
In clinical trials, the study of Ambien was carried out for up to 4-5 weeks. If you are going to take it for a longer period, consult your healthcare provider. Ambien should be taken immediately before bedtime when you have at least 7 to 8 hours to sleep.

Relation Between Ambien And Dementia

In addition to the other side effects of Ambien, its usage among the older person can lead to a greater risk of dementia. When used at a higher dose or over a long time, researchers found that users were more likely to develop dementia. 
For this and other reasons, the recommended dose for the elderly is half the adult dose.

The best thing is that some patients experience reversible dementia, which means that if someone stops taking Ambien and is no longer experiencing any cumulative effects, their dementia symptoms are controlled.

According to clinical studies, Ambien produced clinically significant memory loss in less than 1% of patients taking the recommended dose. 

It should be noted that this drug affects every individual differently. Still, older people are at greater risk of developing its adverse effect as it becomes difficult for the liver and kidneys to filter the blood with age. Thus, parameters such as the patient's age, weight, dose, and length of time should be considered before taking this drug.

Side Effects Of Ambien

Ambien can cause mild to serious side effects, which vary with the individual. The following list contains some essential side effects of taking zolpidem.

  • Trouble breathing
  • Chest pain
  • Stuffy nose
  • Nausea, constipation, stomach upset
  • Tiredness
  • Muscle pain, headache
  • Dry mouth
  • Depression
  • Loss of coordination
  • Rash

This does not include all the side effects. Talk with your doctor or pharmacist for more information on the possible side effects of zolpidem. 

Are There Any Alternatives To Ambien?

Ambien is a non-benzodiazepine, a non-barbiturate drug that acts on the same neurotransmitters as benzodiazepines i.e., GABA receptors. As with benzodiazepines, this drug helps to reduce panic, anxiety, and seizures and causes relaxation, which may feel euphoric if the dose of Ambien is too high. Some people abuse zolpidem for its intoxicating effects at higher doses, which can feel like being drunk. If an individual experiences memory loss or any parasomnia after taking Ambien, or if anyone develops a dependence on this drug, a person should talk to the prescribing physician regarding the same. 

Different treatments ranging from a tapered dosage to full medical detox and addiction treatment under medical supervision, may be suitable depending on the circumstances.

Many individuals who stop taking Ambien need to seek other means to help them fall asleep. 

  • Sleep restriction therapy is based on the thinking that if a person is deprived of sleep, it will drive the individual to fall asleep and help treat insomnia.
  • Relaxation therapy includes progressive muscle relaxation, which is sometimes used for insomnia. 
  • Reconditioning involves the induction of good sleep habits, such as using one's bed for sex and sleep only, abiding by a fixed sleep schedule, and avoiding naps, which helps in promoting high-quality and consistent sleep over time.

Bottom Line From Practical Anxiety Solutions

Ambien is a sedative-hypnotic drug for insomnia as it shortens the time taken to fall asleep. Despite being an effective drug, clinical studies show that the long-term use of Ambien use may increase the risk of dementia. 

In case of risk associated with Ambien use and dementia, seek help from a medical practitioner in getting back to healthy sleeping habits.

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