Medications That Cause Memory Loss and Dementia Vector

15+ Medications That Cause Memory Loss and Dementia (2024)

by | Jul 9, 2024

Memory loss can be a distressing side effect of certain medications, impacting daily life and cognitive function.

Understanding which medications might cause memory issues is crucial for both patients and healthcare providers.

This article delves into the common medications known to contribute to memory loss, helping you make informed decisions about your treatment options.

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Can Certain Medications Affect Your Memory?

Yes, certain medications can affect your memory. Drugs such as benzodiazepines, statins, antidepressants, antihistamines, and some sleep aids are known to potentially cause memory loss or cognitive impairment as a side effect.

It’s important to be aware of these potential impacts and discuss any concerns with your healthcare provider to explore alternative treatments or dosage adjustments that may help mitigate these effects while still effectively managing your health condition.

Man with memory loss vector illustration

Medications That May Cause Memory Loss

  1. Benzodiazepines
  2. Statins
  3. Antidepressants
  4. Antihistamines
  5. Anticholinergics
  6. Sleep aids
  7. Antipsychotics
  8. Antiseizure drugs
  9. Muscle relaxants
  10. Narcotic painkillers
  11. Beta-blockers
  12. Corticosteroids
  13. Heartburn medications
  14. Cannabinoids
  15. Chemotherapy drugs

Watch this video or keep reading to learn more about the drugs and medications that may potentially affect the brain, resulting in memory loss and dementia.


Benzodiazepines are a class of drugs commonly prescribed for anxiety, insomnia, and seizures. They work by enhancing the effect of the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which has a calming effect on the brain.

However, this calming effect can also lead to cognitive impairment, including memory loss.

Benzodiazepines can cause both short-term and long-term memory issues by interfering with the brain’s ability to encode and retrieve information, particularly impacting the formation of new memories.


Statins are medications used to lower cholesterol levels in the blood, thereby reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke. They work by inhibiting an enzyme involved in cholesterol production in the liver.

However, some studies have suggested that statins may affect brain function, potentially leading to memory loss.

The exact mechanism is not fully understood, but it is believed that statins might interfere with cholesterol synthesis in the brain, which is crucial for maintaining healthy brain cells and synaptic function.


Antidepressants are medications prescribed to treat various forms of depression and anxiety disorders. They work by altering the levels of neurotransmitters in the brain, such as serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine, to improve mood and emotional state.

However, some antidepressants, particularly those in the tricyclic class, can cause memory loss and cognitive impairment as side effects.

This may occur due to their anticholinergic properties, which block the action of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter important for learning and memory.


Antihistamines are drugs commonly used to treat allergies, cold symptoms, and motion sickness. They work by blocking histamine receptors in the body, which helps reduce symptoms like sneezing, itching, and runny nose.

However, many antihistamines, especially the older “first-generation” types, can cross the blood-brain barrier and interfere with neurotransmitter activity in the brain.

This can lead to drowsiness, confusion, and memory loss by blocking acetylcholine receptors, which are crucial for cognitive processes.


Anticholinergics are a broad class of drugs used to treat various conditions, including gastrointestinal disorders, urinary incontinence, and some respiratory issues.

They work by blocking the action of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter involved in transmitting messages in the nervous system. While effective for their intended uses, anticholinergics can significantly impact brain function, leading to memory loss and cognitive decline.

This is because acetylcholine plays a vital role in learning and memory, and its inhibition can impair these cognitive functions.

Sleep Aids

Sleep aids, including prescription medications like zolpidem (Ambien) and over-the-counter options like diphenhydramine (Benadryl), are used to treat insomnia and other sleep disorders.

These drugs generally work by depressing the central nervous system, promoting drowsiness and sleep. However, their sedative effects can extend beyond the intended period, causing residual drowsiness, confusion, and memory loss.

They can impair the brain’s ability to consolidate memories during sleep, leading to difficulties in forming and retaining new memories.


Antipsychotics are medications prescribed to treat severe mental health conditions such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and severe depression. They work by altering the effects of neurotransmitters in the brain, particularly dopamine.

While effective in managing symptoms of psychosis, antipsychotics can sometimes cause side effects including memory loss.

This is often due to their impact on various neurotransmitter systems which are crucial for cognitive functions, including memory formation and retrieval.

Antiseizure Drugs

Antiseizure drugs, also known as anticonvulsants, are used to control seizures in conditions such as epilepsy. They work by stabilizing electrical activity in the brain to prevent seizures.

However, these medications can sometimes lead to cognitive side effects, including memory loss.

The exact mechanism can vary depending on the specific drug, but generally, antiseizure medications can affect neurotransmitter balance and neural communication, leading to difficulties with memory and other cognitive functions.

Muscle Relaxants

Muscle relaxants are medications used to relieve muscle spasms and discomfort associated with conditions such as back pain and multiple sclerosis. They work by depressing the central nervous system to reduce muscle tension.

While effective for pain relief and muscle relaxation, these drugs can also affect brain function, leading to drowsiness, confusion, and memory loss.

The sedative effect of muscle relaxants can impair the brain’s ability to process and store information, resulting in short-term memory issues.

Narcotic Painkillers

Narcotic painkillers, also known as opioids, are powerful medications used to manage severe pain. They work by binding to opioid receptors in the brain and spinal cord to block pain signals.

However, opioids can also affect areas of the brain responsible for cognition and memory.

Prolonged use or high doses can lead to memory loss, confusion, and reduced cognitive function due to their impact on neurotransmitter activity and the potential for sedation and mental clouding.


Beta-blockers are medications commonly prescribed for high blood pressure, heart arrhythmias, and anxiety. They work by blocking the effects of adrenaline on beta receptors, slowing the heart rate and reducing blood pressure.

While effective for cardiovascular conditions, beta-blockers can cross the blood-brain barrier and affect brain function.

Some individuals may experience memory loss or cognitive impairment as a result of reduced blood flow to the brain and the impact on neurotransmitter regulation.


Corticosteroids are anti-inflammatory drugs used to treat a wide range of conditions, including asthma, arthritis, and autoimmune disorders.

They mimic the effects of hormones produced by the adrenal glands. Long-term use of corticosteroids can affect brain function, potentially leading to memory loss and cognitive difficulties.

This is because corticosteroids can alter the balance of neurotransmitters and impact brain regions involved in memory processing, such as the hippocampus.

Heartburn Medications

Heartburn medications, specifically proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) and H2 receptor blockers, are used to reduce stomach acid and treat conditions like gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

While effective for managing heartburn and acid reflux, some studies suggest that long-term use of these medications may be linked to cognitive decline and memory loss.

The exact mechanism is not fully understood, but it is hypothesized that they may interfere with the absorption of essential nutrients, like vitamin B12, which is crucial for brain health and cognitive function.


Cannabinoids, including medical marijuana and synthetic cannabinoids, are used for a variety of medical conditions such as chronic pain, nausea, and epilepsy.

They interact with the endocannabinoid system in the brain, affecting neurotransmitter release and neural activity. While they can provide therapeutic benefits, cannabinoids can also impair short-term memory and cognitive function.

This is because cannabinoids affect areas of the brain involved in memory processing, such as the hippocampus, leading to difficulties in forming new memories and retaining information.

Chemotherapy Drugs

Chemotherapy drugs are powerful medications used to treat cancer by killing rapidly dividing cells. While essential for combating cancer, these drugs can also affect healthy cells, including those in the brain.

Chemotherapy-induced cognitive impairment, often referred to as “chemo brain,” can result in memory loss, difficulty concentrating, and other cognitive challenges.

The exact cause is multifaceted, involving direct neurotoxic effects of the drugs, inflammation, and changes in brain metabolism and structure.

Final Thoughts

Being aware of the potential memory-related side effects of certain medications allows for better management of your overall health.

If you suspect your medication is affecting your memory, consult your healthcare provider to discuss possible alternatives or adjustments.

Proactive communication can help mitigate these side effects while maintaining the effectiveness of your treatment.

John Landry, BS, RRT

Written by:

John Landry, BS, RRT

John Landry is a registered respiratory therapist from Memphis, TN, and has a bachelor's degree in kinesiology. He enjoys using evidence-based research to help others live a healthier life.


  • Chavant F, Favrelière S, Lafay-Chebassier C, Plazanet C, Pérault-Pochat MC. Memory disorders associated with consumption of drugs: updating through a case/noncase study in the French PharmacoVigilance Database. Br J Clin Pharmacol. 2011.
  • Schultz BG, Patten DK, Berlau DJ. The role of statins in both cognitive impairment and protection against dementia: a tale of two mechanisms. Transl Neurodegener. 2018.

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