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Sedatives Still Prescribed for Elderly Despite Risks

Benzodiazepines tied to confusion and falls

WEDNESDAY, Dec. 17, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Doctors continue to prescribe benzodiazepines for seniors despite the significant risks they pose, a new study contends. The research was published online Dec. 17 in JAMA Psychiatry.

The analysis included national data from 2008. The researchers found that 5.2 percent of Americans aged 18 to 80 (11.5 million people) were prescribed benzodiazepines. Of people between the ages of 18 and 35, 2.6 percent were prescribed benzodiazepines. But among those aged 65 to 80, 8.7 percent were on the drugs, according to the study.

Almost one-third of seniors given these medications stayed on them for at least four months, the researchers found. Long-term use may make the medications less effective. There's also a greater risk of dependence on the drugs with long-term use.

According to a Columbia University Medical Center news release, the researchers hope the study is a wake-up call for health care professionals. They suggested that health care professionals could teach older adults who have trouble sleeping or experience anxiety about non-drug options for their problems. "Examples include increasing light-to-moderate exercise, promoting supportive relationships, ensuring adequate exposure to natural light, avoiding stimulants such as caffeine late in the day, avoiding naps, establishing a regular, relaxing bedtime routine, and accepting that quality of sleep naturally tends to decline as we age," lead author Mark Olfson, M.D., M.P.H., a professor of psychiatry at the Columbia University Medical Center in New York City, said in the news release.

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