Association of Anticholinergic Burden with Cognitive Impairment and Health Care Utilization Among a Diverse Ambulatory Older Adult Population

Noll L. Campbell, Anthony J. Perkins, Pamela Bradt, Sinem Perk, Ronald C. Wielage, Malaz A. Boustani, Daniel B. Ng

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

35 Scopus citations


Study Objective: To determine the association between Anticholinergic Cognitive Burden (ACB) score and both cognitive impairment and health care utilization among a diverse ambulatory older adult population. Design: Retrospective cohort study. Data Source: Medication exposure and other clinical data were extracted from the Regenstrief Medical Record System (RMRS), and cognitive diagnosis was derived from a dementia screening and diagnosis study. Patients: A total of 3344 community-dwelling older adults (age 65 yrs and older) who were enrolled in a previously published dementia screening and diagnosis study; of these, 3127 were determined to have no cognitive impairment, and 217 were determined to have cognitive impairment. Measurements and Main Results: The study followed a two-phase screening and comprehensive neuropsychiatric examination to determine a cognitive diagnosis, which defined cognitive impairment as dementia or mild cognitive impairment. The ACB scale was used to identify anticholinergics dispensed in the 12 months prior to screening. A total daily ACB score was calculated by using pharmacy dispensing data from RMRS; each anticholinergic was multiplied by 1, 2, or 3 consistent with anticholinergic burden defined by the ACB scale. The sum of all ACB medications was divided by the number of days with any medication dispensed to achieve the total daily ACB score. Health care utilization included visits to inpatient, outpatient, and the emergency department, and it was determined by using visit data from the RMRS. The overall population had a mean age of 71.5 years, 71% were female, and 58% were African American. Each 1-point increase in mean total daily ACB score was associated with increasing risk of cognitive impairment (odds ratio [OR] 1.13, 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.004–1.27, p=0.043). Each 1-point increase in mean total daily ACB score increased the likelihood of inpatient admission (OR 1.11, 95% CI 1.02–1.29, p=0.014) and number of outpatient visits after adjusting for demographic characteristics, number of chronic conditions, and prior visit history (estimate 0.382, standard error [SE] 0.113; p=0.001). The number of visits to the emergency department was also significantly different after similar adjustments (estimate 0.046, SE 0.023, p=0.043). Conclusion: Increasing total ACB score was correlated with an increased risk for cognitive impairment and more frequent health care utilization. Future work should study interventions that safely reduce ACB and evaluate the impact on brain health and health care costs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1123-1131
Number of pages9
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 1 2016


  • anticholinergic
  • cognitive impairment
  • health care utilization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology (medical)

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