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Sleeping Pills Won't Increase Elderly Fall Risk

Insomnia is probably the culprit, large study suggests

MONDAY, April 11, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- It's insomnia itself, not sleeping pills, that increases the risk for falls and injuries among sleep-deprived elderly people, a new study suggests.

"Many physicians assume that when an older patient has insomnia and is given a hypnotic drug to help induce sleep, the drug will make the patient likely to fall and develop a hip fracture," lead researcher and University of Michigan sleep specialist Dr. Alon Avidan said in a prepared statement.

"But our findings suggest that people whose insomnia is effectively treated are less likely to fall than untreated insomniacs," Avidan said.

The study authors noted that in many nursing homes across the United States, elderly residents with insomnia often go untreated due to the common belief that the hypnotic class of sleeping pills -- which include benzodiazepines, barbiturates and shorter-lasting, commonly advertised sleep aids -- increase the likelihood of falls and injuries.

However, this study of more than 34,000 Michigan nursing home residents over age 65 found that those with untreated or partially treated insomnia were 90 percent more likely to fall within six months than those without insomnia, while those taking sleeping pills were only 29 percent more likely to fall.

The study was published online in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

"One study by itself isn't enough to eliminate current concerns about hypnotics and falls, but many previous studies that raised these concerns did not look to see whether insomnia, rather than the drugs themselves, might be the problem. Our results should encourage older people and their caregivers to pay attention to insomnia, and to seek help for it," added senior researcher Dr. Ronald Chervin, associate professor of neurology and director of U-M's Sleep Disorders Center.

More information

The National Sleep Foundation has information on sleep and aging.

SOURCE: University of Michigan Health System, news release, April, 2005
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