Anticholinergic deprescribing interventions for reducing risk of cognitive decline or dementia in older adults with and without prior cognitive impairment
Anticholinergics are medications that block the action of acetylcholine in the central or peripheral nervous system. Medications with anticholinergic properties are commonly prescribed to older adults. The cumulative anticholinergic effect of all the medications a person takes is referred to as the anticholinergic burden. A high anticholinergic burden may cause cognitive impairment in people who are otherwise cognitively healthy, or cause further cognitive decline in people with pre-existing cognitive problems. Reducing anticholinergic burden through deprescribing interventions may help to prevent onset of cognitive impairment or slow the rate of cognitive decline.
Objectives: Primary objective • To assess the efficacy and safety of anticholinergic medication reduction interventions for improving cognitive outcomes in cognitively healthy older adults and older adults with pre-existing cognitive issues. Secondary Objectives • To compare the effectiveness of different types of reduction interventions (e.g. pharmacist-led versus general practitioner-led, educational versus audit and feedback) for reducing overall anticholinergic burden. • To establish optimal duration of anticholinergic reduction interventions, sustainability, and lessons learnt for upscaling • To compare results according to differing anticholinergic scales used in medication reduction intervention trials • To assess the efficacy of anticholinergic medication reduction interventions for improving other clinical outcomes, including mortality, quality of life, clinical global impression, physical function, institutionalisation, falls, cardiovascular diseases, and neurobehavioral outcomes.
Search methods: We searched CENTRAL on 22 December 2022, and we searched MEDLINE, Embase, and three other databases from inception to 1 November 2022.
Selection criteria: We included randomised controlled trials (RCTs) of interventions that aimed to reduce anticholinergic burden in older people and that investigated cognitive outcomes.
Data collection and analysis: Two review authors independently assessed studies for inclusion, extracted data, and assessed the risk of bias of included studies. The data were not suitable for meta-analysis, so we summarised them narratively. We used GRADE methods to rate our confidence in the review results.
Main results: We included three trials with a total of 299 participants. All three trials were conducted in a cognitively mixed population (some cognitively healthy participants, some participants with dementia). Outcomes were assessed after one to three months. One trial reported significantly improved performance on the Digit Symbol Substitution Test (DSST) in the intervention group (treatment difference 0.70, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.11 to 1.30), although there was no difference between the groups in the proportion of participants with reduced anticholinergic burden. Two trials successfully reduced anticholinergic burden in the intervention group. Of these, one reported no significant difference between the intervention versus control in terms of their effect on cognitive performance measured by the Consortium to Establish a Registry for Alzheimer's Disease (CERAD) immediate recall (mean between-group difference 0.54, 95% CI -0.91 to 2.05), CERAD delayed recall (mean between-group difference -0.23, 95% CI-0.85 to 0.38), CERAD recognition (mean between-group difference 0.77, 95% CI -0.39 to 1.94), and Mini-Mental State Examination (mean between-group difference 0.39, 95% CI -0.96 to 1.75). The other trial reported a significant correlation between anticholinergic burden and a test of working memory after the intervention (which suggested reducing the burden improved performance), but reported no effect on multiple other cognitive measures. In GRADE terms, the results were of very low certainty. There were no reported between-group differences for any other clinical outcome we investigated. It was not possible to investigate differences according to type of reduction intervention or type of anticholinergic scale, to measure the sustainability of interventions, or to establish lessons learnt for upscaling. No trials investigated safety outcomes.
Authors' conclusions: There is insufficient evidence to reach any conclusions on the effects of anticholinergic burden reduction interventions on cognitive outcomes in older adults with or without prior cognitive impairment. The evidence from RCTs was of very low certainty so cannot support or refute the hypothesis that actively reducing or stopping prescription of medications with anticholinergic properties can improve cognitive outcomes in older people. There is no evidence from RCTs that anticholinergic burden reduction interventions improve other clinical outcomes such as mortality, quality of life, clinical global impression, physical function, institutionalisation, falls, cardiovascular diseases, or neurobehavioral outcomes. Larger RCTs investigating long-term outcomes are needed. Future RCTs should also investigate potential benefits of anticholinergic reduction interventions in cognitively healthy populations and cognitively impaired populations separately.
Source: Taylor-Rowan M, Alharthi AA, Noel-Storr AH, Myint PK, Stewart C, McCleery J, Quinn TJ. Anticholinergic deprescribing interventions for reducing risk of cognitive decline or dementia in older adults with and without prior cognitive impairment. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2023 Dec 8;12(12):CD015405. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD015405.pub2.