Cholinesterase inhibitors for mild cognitive impairment.

Tom C. Russ*, Joanne Morling

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

    125 Citations (Scopus)


    Mild cognitive impairment is hypothesised to represent a pre-clinical stage of dementia but forms a heterogeneous group with variable prognosis. To assess the safety and efficacy of cholinesterase inhibitors in people with mild cognitive impairment. Trials were identified from the Cochrane Dementia and Cognitive Improvement Group's Specialised Register, which is frequently updated from the major healthcare databases (MEDLINE, EMBASE, CINAHL, PsycINFO and Lilacs) as well as trial registers and grey literature. Double-blind, placebo-controlled randomised trials of any cholinesterase inhibitor in people with mild cognitive impairment. Data were extracted from the published reports of the included studies, combined by meta-analysis where appropriate, and treatment efficacy and risk of adverse events were estimated. Nine studies (from eight published reports) of 5149 individuals with mild cognitive impairment (however defined) were included in the review. Limited pooling of results was possible owing to different lengths of trials. Meta-analysis of the three studies reporting conversion to dementia gives no strong evidence of a beneficial effect of cholinesterase inhibitors on the progression to dementia at one, two or three years. The risk ratio (RR) for conversion at two years was significantly different from unity (0.67; 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.55 to 0.83), but this is based on only two studies reported in the same article. There was essentially no effect of cholinesterase inhibitors on cognitive test scores.Based on the results from 4207 individuals, there were significantly more adverse events in the cholinesterase inhibitor groups (RR 1.09; 95% CI 1.02 to 1.16), but no more serious adverse events or deaths. Gastrointestinal side effects were much more common (diarrhoea: RR 2.10; 95% CI 1.30 to 3.39; nausea: RR 2.97; 95% CI 2.57 to 3.42; vomiting: RR 4.42; 95% CI 3.23 to 6.05). Cardiac problems were no more likely in either group (RR 0.71; 95% CI 0.25 to 2.02). Other side effects reported significantly more often in the cholinesterase inhibitor group were muscle spasms/leg cramps (RR 7.52; 95% CI 4.34 to 13.02), headache (RR 1.34; 95% CI 1.05 to 1.71), syncope or dizziness (RR 1.62; 95% CI 1.36 to 1.93), insomnia (RR 1.66; 95% CI 1.36 to 2.02) and abnormal dreams (RR 4.25; 95% CI 2.57 to 7.04). There is very little evidence that cholinesterase inhibitors affect progression to dementia or cognitive test scores in mild cognitive impairment. This weak evidence is overwhelmed by the increased risk of adverse events, particularly gastrointestinal. Cholinesterase inhibitors should not be recommended for mild cognitive impairment.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)CD009132
    JournalThe Cochrane database of systematic reviews
    Publication statusPublished - 2012


    Dive into the research topics of 'Cholinesterase inhibitors for mild cognitive impairment.'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this