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Nearly half of adults 65 and older have trouble sleeping, and more than a third take medication to help them fall asleep, newly published results from a national survey have found. But among those taking over-the-counter relief, many are not telling their doctors about the problem or the medication, which could end up posing other health problems.
The poll of 1,065 people ages 65 to 80 was conducted by the University of Michigan Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation. AARP and Michigan Medicine, the university’s academic medical center, sponsored it.
While medication — with or without prescription — can be of help in the short term, continued use is rarely in the patient’s interest.
“Although sleep problems can happen at any age and for many reasons, they can’t be cured by taking a pill — either prescription, over-the-counter or herbal — no matter what the ads on TV say,” said Preeti Malani, M.D., poll director and a University of Michigan geriatric care specialist.
Even while guidelines warn against using prescription sleep medicine for those 65 and older, 8 percent of that population do so.
Silence also doesn’t help, said Malani.
“The first step for anyone having trouble sleeping on a regular basis should be to talk to a doctor about it,” she said. But many don’t, and over-the-counter sleep aids with antihistamine carry significant risks for older people, often leading to confusion, urinary retention and constipation.