Sleep Aids Linked with Alzheimer’s

Sleep disruption and restlessness are common among older adults but before reaching for a solution in a bottle, there is new research that may have you re-thinking this impulse.

A 2014 study published in the British Medical Journal has linked the drug benzodiazepine, found in prescription medications like Xanax and Valium, with an increased risk for Alzheimer’s disease. Adults over the age of 66 were included in the Quebec study which compared benzodiazepine use in subjects with Alzheimer’s with a control group of the same age, without dementia.

The research found that benzodiazepine, taken for three to six months, increased the risk of developing Alzheimer’s by 32 per cent and using it longer raised chances of having the disease by 84 per cent. Use of the drug is not known to cause dementia but may be a red flag that the disease is already in progress.

Although benzodiazepine is not commonly used to aid in sleep, it is prescribed for anxiety. Further study has connected zolpidem (Ambien), a pharmacologically similar drug to benzodiazepine, with falls and broken hips among the elderly as well as sleep eating and sleep driving.

Older adults require between seven and eight hours of sleep each night to remain healthy. Rather than turning to prescription medications, seniors may want to consider alternative treatments for chronic sleep disorders such as cognitive behavior therapy or relaxation techniques.

Benzodiazepines should rarely be prescribed in older adults and only for short periods of time. Because seniors do not flush these drugs from their system as quickly as younger adults, the buildup can put them at risk for memory loss, falls, fractures and car accidents. Other drugs that can affect the brain and can cause memory loss include some cholesterol drugs, anti-seizure drugs, antidepressants, narcotic painkillers, Parkinson’s drugs, hypertension drugs, incontinence drugs and antihistamines.

To learn more about managing sleep problems as Alzheimer’s Disease progresses, visit the Mayo Clinic at this link.