Are Older Adults Taking Benzodiazepines Safely?

If you’re feeling anxious or sleeping poorly, it’s tempting to turn to pills to solve the problem. However, prescription sedative drugs known as benzodiazepines carry significant risks, particularly for older adults.

Many people in their 60s, 70s and 80s take antianxiety medications – such as Xanax, Valium and Ativan – sometimes indefinitely. Sleeping pills – such as Halcion and Restoril – meant for short-term use can turn into long-term habits.

Sedation, dizziness and weakness are among the most common benzodiazepine side effects. Depressed mood, headaches, memory problems and irritability can also occur.

Disorientation, balance problems, daytime drowsiness and increased risk of injuries – like falls – are also benzodiazepine side effects. The very problems older adults hope to avoid, such as mental confusion or hip fractures, become more likely.

Even so, physicians keep writing and refilling these prescriptions for their older patients. A new study finds that many patients take benzodiazepine drugs for months on end.

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