Shouldn’t lowly Benadryl be safe?
           
For those that need a good night’s sleep, a common option is to use Tylenol PM or Advil PM. The “PM” part is diphenhydramine or Benadryl and that is what will make a person drowsy and potentially help them sleep.
           
There is no free lunch when it comes to prescription medications and over the counter (OTC) options. If something is going to have an effect on the body, there can be unintended consequences.
           
This summary article from The Huffington Post reviews a number of medications that increase the risk of dementia. 
           
The first category is anticholinergics and includes diphenhydramine, but also a number of other commonly prescribed medications like Oxybutynin used for overactive bladder, amitryptiline used for migraine prevention and depression, plus muscle relaxers, cardiac drugs and some used for Parkinson’s disease among others.
           
The other category of medications that was shown recently to increase risk of Alzheimer’s is the acid blockers called proton pump inhibitors. This started with the “purple pill” Prilosec and now includes a long list of others in the same category. The mechanism by which these pills increase risk is not clear, but I suspect it may be the long-term insidious vitamin and mineral deficiencies that would come from poor breakdown of food from have an induced deficiency of stomach acid.
           
Acid is not a villain the same way that cholesterol and the Yankees are not villains.  We need stomach acid. We need cholesterol. We need the Yankees even if to make victory that much sweeter.
           
We have to respect the way the body works and not override its complex internal processes so we can have pepperoni pizza and beer for dinner.
           
Often these medications are essential for maintaining daily quality of life. I am certainly not advocating that you clean house and discontinue medications without a discussion with your doctors. If someone with hyperactive bladder might fall on the way to the bathroom in the middle of the night and break a hip if not for taking medication, that is a solid reason to take it.
The point is that we need to understand the impact of these substances on our long-term health as well as the short-term quick fix.
           
I would try to review the medications of your mother, father or other loved one on a regular basis with this context in mind.
Andrew Lenhardt, MD