Alzheimer’s Disease Symptoms or Medication Side Effects?

Many commonly prescribed medications can cause side effects that mimic Alzheimer’s disease symptoms.

Disorientation. Confusion. Memory loss. While these are certainly well-known Alzheimer’s disease symptoms, they could also come about from taking certain medications. Rather than immediately assuming an inevitable diagnosis of dementia, review the following list of prescription medications which can cause similar side effects.

Pain Medications

Opioids in particular are reported to impact short-term memory. However, the issue is usually resolved once pain medications are no longer being taken.

Acetylcholine Blockers

Prescribed by doctors for insomnia, IBS, urinary incontinence, depression, heart problems, vertigo, Parkinson’s, and other conditions, treatments with anticholinergic effects that block acetylcholine’s effects in the brain can cause memory disturbance, confusion, agitation, and delirium, among other significant health conditions. An example is tolterodine. 


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


Mood and cognitive changes, psychotic symptoms, and delirium are just some of the complications related to corticosteroid use. One of the most common examples is prednisone.

Chemotherapy Medications

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


Statins, prescribed to lower cholesterol, have a suspected connection to memory and mental slowing and decline. While there are conflicting results from various research studies, it is important to be aware of the possibility for cognitive complications.

It’s also important to note that many prescription medications impact older adults differently than those who are younger. This may be due to some extent to the decreased efficiency in an older person’s liver and kidneys, along with interactions with other medications being taken and a decreased cognitive reserve in the brain. Alcohol use can further exacerbate complications. 

Make sure to speak with the physician prior to starting, stopping, or changing any medication, and about whether any cognitive complications you are witnessing in an older adult might be the result of a medication.

Golden Harmony, providing in home caregivers Raleigh families trust, is also readily available to assist seniors in a variety of ways – medication reminders to make sure meds are taken just as prescribed, transportation to doctors’ appointments, picking up prescriptions, and watching for any changes in condition and reporting them immediately, just to name a few. Reach out to us online or call us at 919-426-7522 for help any time. Visit our Communities Served page to find out all  of the locations where we provide care in the Triangle.