LONDON, ONT. -- Overactive bladder is a condition that affects many people as they age, but a drug used to treat it may have unintended consequences.

“Overactive bladder is a very common condition and estimates find 10-15 per cent of people have overactive bladder," says Dr. Blayne Welk, associate professor at the Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry and a scientist at the Lawson Health Research Institute.

Welk says what's also common is the treatment that many of these patients are prescribed, which is a class of drug called anticholinergics.

“Anticholinergic medications try to prevent contractions of the bladder and prevent spasms in the bladder, which is how I describe it to patients.”

These drugs however, have become the focus of a new study, where Welk and his team looked the possibility that this class of drugs could increase the risk of developing dementia.

By using data provided by the ICES, the team was able to study approximately 60,000 Ontarians with bladder leakage issues for this research.

The research team compared patients who used anticholinergics to patients who used a another class of drugs called beta-3 agonists, which both are used as bladder leakage treatments.

“We found there was a 20 per cent higher risk of dementia in those using the anticholinergics type of medication," says Welk.

The beta class of drugs did not show a dementia risk.

Welk says even though the risk is technically low, patients should still speak to their doctors about treatment options.

“It’s important for physicians to be aware that there are alternative medications and if a patient is concerned about that being a side effect of an overactive bladder medication, there are alternatives out there that can be tried first.”

A link to the full research paper is available here.