Use Of Sleep Aids Not Recommended For Older Adults

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Use Of Sleep Aids Not Recommended For Older Adults

By some estimates, Insomnia affects one-third of all adults. So it’s probably of little surprise that there are a multitude of sleep aids available, both over-the-counter and by prescription. But there are risks to using these drugs, and more and more doctors are starting to discourage patients from using them.

In May, the American College of Physicians issued new guidelines for managing chronic insomnia. After reviewing more than 15 years worth of evidence, they recommended cognitive-behavioral therapy as a first intervention. They noted that drugs should only be used in therapy is not successful, and then only for a short time.

Nitin Damle, president of the American College of Physicians:

Drugs don’t provide a natural sleep, and the side effects are significant. It’s true in all age groups, but even more problematic for older adults.”

In addition to being addictive, sleep aids can cause a host of other problems, including “fuzzy” thinking, grogginess, and short-term memory lapses. As adults get older, drugs remain the body longer due to changes including reduced kidney and liver function. This can cause weakening of both the body and senses, lethargy, and impaired balance.

This can put older adults at a greater risk for fall and injury. And over the long-term, sleeping aids can further affect mental functioning. Also, older patients may be taken a host of other medications (older adults Americans take an average of five) that can interact with a sleep aid.

All sleep aids are central nervous system depressants, which means they slow activity down in the brain and body. They include hypnotics, such as Ambien and Lunestra, as well as benzodiazapines (also anti-anxiety) such as Xanax and Ativan.

The American Geriatrics Society does not recommend that older adults use benzodiazepines or other sedatives as a first-line treatment for insomnia. This is due to study findings which show that the risk of car accidents, falls, and hip injuries leading to hospitalization and/or death is more than double in older adults who take these sleep aids.

~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A., Psychology

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