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Prescription Sleep Aids Can Be Risky for the Elderly

Risks of sedative hypnotics could include dizziness, loss of balance and falls

MONDAY, Nov. 14 (HealthDay News) -- Despite "marginal" benefits, prescription sedative hypnotics put older people at increased risk of adverse events such as falls and cognitive impairment, according to a study published online in the British Medical Journal.

Jennifer Glass, of the University of Toronto, and colleagues analyzed 24 studies that involved 2,417 participants aged 60 or older who participated in trials of pharmacological insomnia treatments for at least five nights in a row.

When the participants used sedatives, the researchers found that total sleep time increased by a mean of 25.2 minutes, and that nighttime awakenings dropped compared to participants who used a placebo. But adverse cognitive events were 4.78 times more common with sedatives, adverse psychomotor events were 2.61 times more common and reports of daytime fatigue were 3.82 times more common in those using sedatives than in those taking placebos.

"Improvements in sleep with sedative use are statistically significant, but the magnitude of effect is small," the authors write. "The increased risk of adverse events is statistically significant and potentially clinically relevant in older people at risk of falls and cognitive impairment. In people over 60, the benefits of these drugs may not justify the increased risk."

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