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Risky Sedative Still Prescribed for Some Older Adults

It helps people sleep but doubles rates of car accidents and falls in those 65+

A woman shakes pills out of a pill bottle

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Benzodiazepine has been linked to doubled rates of car accidents, falls and broken hips for people age 65 and older.

Although the rate is falling, a sedative that can significantly increase accidents for older adults is still being prescribed — despite efforts to discourage the drug’s use.

The drug is benzodiazepine, which helps many people sleep, or feel calmer or less anxious. While deemed safe for younger people, the use of benzodiazepine has been linked to doubled rates of car accidents, falls and broken hips for people age 65 and older.

Even with the heightened risk, the drug shows up in the prescriptions of at least 7 percent of older veterans in the United States, whose medical records were studied for the research. The results were recently published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. The rate is even higher among adults 65 and older in Canada and Australia.

Although there have been “modest decreases” in the drug’s use in all three countries and “in spite of consistent messaging about the hazards of using benzodiazepines … the rates of benzodiazepine use in older adults remain high,” the authors of the study warned.

Among the possible factors in continued prescription:

  • Doctors’ tendency “to minimize the risks of prescribing to older adults”
  • “Limited access to nonpharmacological alternatives such as psychotherapy”
  • Limited physician time

The study’s authors say that the limited decreases in use show promise for “future internationally coordinated efforts to decrease low-value care by investigating the motivations for prescribing” as well as undertaking related analyses.

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