Use of sleeping pills in hospital leads to dependence for many seniors

A new study has produced some worrying results regarding the use of sleeping pills in the elderly.

The study has found that almost half of elderly patients who are prescribed a common type of sleeping pill for short-term insomnia during hospital stays are still taking the drugs six months after discharge.

The researchers say the sleep medication benzodiazepine is commonly prescribed to help patients cope with anxiety and insomnia but it can be addictive.

Benzodiazepine has been linked to such serious side-effects in elderly patients such daytime sleepiness, cognitive impairment and to falls and related injuries as well as motor vehicle collisions.

Dr. Bell says the effects of the drugs are even more potent when combined with other medications or with alcohol and that long-term use leads to dependence.

For the study by researchers at the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES) in Toronto, the health records of more than 400,000 seniors hospitalized in Ontario between April, 1992, and March, 2005 were examined.

It was revealed that of almost 12,500 patients prescribed the sleeping pills in hospital, after discharge more than 6,100 were still taking the drugs on a regular basis months later.

Dr. Bell believes better co-ordination is needed between hospital doctors and family doctors to prevent elderly patients from becoming dependent on sleeping pills that could cause them significant harm.

The study also identified patients who were at high-risk of becoming chronic users; they are:- mainly women, those admitted to the intensive care unit of non-surgical wards, those hospitalized for longer, those diagnosed with additional illnesses, alcoholics, and those on a range of medications.

Dr. Bell says the study reveals an area of health care that could be improved which is the transition and continuity of care from hospital to community.

He says what medications people are on before hospitalization and what they are prescribed during hospitalization, must be reconciled when they are discharged.

He also says there needs to be better co-ordination between the hospital and personal doctors to avoid the risk of chronic use of sleep medications in the elderly.

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