Have trouble with memory or brain fog? Why your medications could be to blame

An astonishing 66 percent of American adults use at least one prescription medication. Moreover, the vast majority of adults use prescription medication for five of the most common chronic health conditions – heart disease, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, arthritis, and cancer. In addition, the vast majority of user (age-wise) of prescription drugs are 50 years or older. This is not even counting the number of Americans regularly using over-the-counter (OTC) medications.  But what’s worrisome is some of the OTC and prescription drugs can affect memory and cognitive functioning. 

Not everyone using prescription drugs or OTC medications is affected equally by them. Some have few side effects, while others may have noticeable problems with memory and thinking. Im addition, it often depends on the frequency, dosage, and whenever a new dosage or medication is added to their pill regimen.

Why medications affect memory skills

There are three common reasons why some individuals may experience brain fog or have trouble multitasking or comprehending information attributing it to a “senior moment.”  The factors commonly involved include:

  • Sensitivity to certain medications

As a person ages, sometimes medications their body metabolized normally when younger suddenly have sensitivities to them. The sensitivities result from their body metabolizing the medication more slowly, making them vulnerable and at risk for dangerous side effects, affecting cognitive function. 

  • Taking multiple medications

Also known as polypharmacy, the need for multiple medications increases in older adults. It’s not uncommon for someone over age 65 to be taking prescribed medications for their diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol or for other health conditions they’ve been diagnosed with. And because of their age, their dosages are often higher than those of someone younger. Polypharmacy puts older adults at risk for a higher chance of adverse drug reactions due to metabolic changes and a reduction of drug clearance associated with aging. 

The other issue with taking multiple medications is always the risk of undesirable drug interactions, leading to issues such as memory function. Therefore, a person’s doctor must review their medication list at every visit to note any pertinent and adverse possibility of drug interactions. Sometimes it takes a trial-and-error approach but in time, working with the doctor leads to a solution. 

  • Weak blood-brain barrier

The brain has a natural protective barrier called the blood-brain barrier. This barrier allows blood carrying nutrients and oxygen to cross this barrier but blocks toxins and other harmful substances. Unfortunately, as people age, this barrier weakens, allowing medications to “leak” or cross the barrier into the brain, directly affecting mental cognition. 

Medications that are common culprits for memory and brain fog

Multiple medications can affect brain functioning, but there are two types that commonly do – medications for sleep and medications for pain.

Sleep aids for individuals with problems falling or staying asleep include both OTC and prescription drugs. The OTC sleep medications contain diphenhydramine, an antihistamine with anticholinergic properties. The anticholinergic medications can cause cognitive functioning impairment in elderly adults. Ambien, a prescription sleep aid, can also reduce activity in certain areas of the brain, affecting memory recall. 

Many people using medications for chronic pain often have issues with confusion and memory. Pain drugs, known for side effects affecting memory, include opioid analgesics such as Elavil, Endep, Aventyl, and Pamelor. 

Reducing cognitive effects of medications

No one wants to deal with brain fog, memory recall, or trouble comprehending information due to medications they need to take. To reduce these problems, tell your doctor and see if they will adjust the dosage. A modification like taking the medication at a different time of day, switching to a different drug, or going off the drug completely, will often solve the problem. 

Keep working at a solution to protect brain health while safely taking medications for chronic health conditions.


Dr. David Samadi is the Director of Men’s Health and Urologic Oncology at St. Francis Hospital in Long Island. He’s a renowned and highly successful board certified Urologic Oncologist Expert and Robotic Surgeon in New York City, regarded as one of the leading prostate surgeons in the U.S., with a vast expertise in prostate cancer treatment and Robotic-Assisted Laparoscopic Prostatectomy.  Dr. Samadi is a medical contributor to NewsMax TV and is also the author of The Ultimate MANual, Dr. Samadi’s Guide to Men’s Health and Wellness, available online both on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Visit Dr. Samadi’s websites at robotic oncology and prostate cancer 911. 

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