January 14, 2015 — Despite the well-known risks of benzodiazepines in older adults, a large-scale study published in JAMA Psychiatry has found that the use of these powerful sedatives increases steadily with age, especially among older women.
The most popular benzodiazepines include alprazolam (Xanax), diazepam (Valium), and lorazepam (Ativan). While they are effective at treating anxiety and sleeping problems, the prevalence of these conditions does not justify the rates of prescribing benzodiazepines.
Furthermore, long-term use can lead to addiction and withdrawal. In older adults, studies have shown that benzodiazepines can impair cognition, mobility, driving skills, and increase the risk of falls.
In September 2014, the British Medical Journal also published a study that found a 50% increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease associated with benzodiazepine use.
The JAMA study found that 1 in 10 women aged 65-80 years old was prescribed a benzodiazepine, with nearly one-third receiving long-term prescriptions. In 90% of cases, the prescription was written by a non-psychiatrist.
Researchers also found that prescriptions increased with age — 8.4% of adults 65-80 were on benzodiazepines, compared to just 2.6% of 18-35 year-olds and 5.4% of 36-50 year-olds.
According to a warning from Thomas Insel, M.D., director of the National Institute of Mental Health:
“These new data reveal worrisome patterns in the prescribing of benzodiazepines for older adults, and women in particular. This analysis suggests that prescriptions for benzodiazepines in older Americans exceed what research suggests is appropriate and safe.”
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