For health professionals

Key points

  • While medicines with anticholinergic effects are useful to treat many conditions, their broad range of actions on the central and peripheral nervous systems can result in unintended adverse effects.
  • Cumulative anticholinergic burden may be caused by multiple medicines not typically thought of as having anticholinergic effects.
  • Anticholinergic burden is associated with poor health outcomes, particularly for older people, including an increase in falls-related hospitalisation, the risk of dementia and mortality.
  • A shared understanding of the patient’s personal goals and preferences may improve health outcomes, facilitate patient-centred medication management reviews and drive comprehensive care planning.
  • Medication management reviews lead to healthier patients, improved compliance, empowerment and improved confidence to self-manage, and better use of medicines.
  • Consider a patient-centred multidisciplinary approach to assessing, managing and reviewing anticholinergic burden, and optimise non-pharmacological options where possible.

Important but not always front of mind: anticholinergic burden

NPS MedicineWise medical advisor Dr Caroline West talks to our other medical adviser Dr Kate Annear about the cumulative effects of anticholinergic medicines.

Podcast transcript

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Focus on anticholinergic burden

How much do you regard anticholinergic burden as an issue that needs your attention?

Identifying and managing medicines with anticholinergic effects can be challenging, as many are not thought of as having these effects.

GPs play a key role in the safe use of medicines with anticholinergic effects.

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Resources to use with your Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients

At NPS MedicineWise, we acknowledge the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the traditional owners of the lands across Australia. We pay our respects to their Elders past, present and emerging.

These resources have been developed in partnership with the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO):

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Resources in community languages

NPS MedicineWise has developed resources in a range of languages.

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Research and references

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Choosing Wisely Australia

Choosing Wisely Australia helps healthcare providers and consumers have important conversations about improving the quality of healthcare by reducing unnecessary and sometimes harmful tests, treatments, and procedures.

5 questions to ask your doctor or other healthcare provider is a resource that can help patients ensure they end up with the right amount of care.

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Reducing anticholinergic burden: Framework for action

This briefing paper provides key insights about anticholinergic burden, including the scale of the issue, clinical practice challenges and barriers to reducing anticholinergic burden, and current programs and activities that are addressing the problem.

The aim of the briefing paper is to build momentum for shared action to address anticholinergic burden.

Anticholinergic burden briefing paper