How to Tell the Difference Between Dementia and Medication Side Effects

How to Tell the Difference Between Dementia and Medication Side Effects

With so many similarities, can you tell the difference between dementia and medication side effects?

Disorientation. Confusion. Memory loss. While these are certainly hallmark symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia, they may also come about from taking certain medications. Before automatically assuming an inevitable diagnosis of dementia, review the following list of prescribed medicines that can cause similar adverse effects in order to help tell the difference between dementia and medication side effects.

Pain Medications

Opioids specifically are reported to affect short-term memory. The good news is that the issue is usually remedied once pain remedies are no longer being taken.

Acetylcholine Blockers

Prescribed by doctors for insomnia, IBS, urinary incontinence, depression, heart issues, Parkinson’s, vertigo, and other conditions, prescription drugs with anticholinergic effects that block acetylcholine’s effects in the brain may cause memory disturbance, agitation, confusion, and delirium, among other serious health conditions. An example is tolteridine.


These prescription medications help treat both insomnia and anxiety, with sedative qualities that can also cause cognitive problems. Long-term usage of benzodiazepines may also be a risk factor for developing dementia. Examples include  temazepam (Restoril) and lorazepam (Ativan).


Mood and cognitive changes, delirium, and psychotic symptoms are just a few of the complications connected with corticosteroid use. One of the most common examples is prednisone.

Chemo Medications

Referred to as “chemo brain,” chemotherapy drugs impact some individuals in the areas of memory, focus and attention, and executive functioning. These changes might be long-lasting, even after finishing chemo treatment.


Prescribed to reduce cholesterol, statins have a suspected connection to memory and mental slowing and decline. While there are inconsistent results from a variety of scientific studies, it is important to know about the possibility for cognitive complications.

It’s also important to remember that many medications affect older adults differently than those who are younger. This may be due in some extent to the decreased efficiency in an older person’s kidneys and liver, along with interactions with other medications being taken and a decreased cognitive reserve in the brain. Complications can also be further exacerbated by alcohol use.

Still unsure how to tell the difference between dementia and medication side effects? Talk with the senior’s doctor for guidance. And always be sure to speak with the doctor prior to starting, stopping, or changing any medication.

Hired Hands Homecare is also on hand to help seniors in a variety of ways – medication reminders to ensure meds are taken just as prescribed, picking up prescriptions, transportation to doctors’ appointments, and keeping an eye out for any changes in condition and reporting them immediately, just to name a few. Contact us at (866) 940-4343 for help any time and to learn more about our in-home care in Sonoma, Rutherford, Tiburon, and the surrounding areas.

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