Prescription, OTC Sleep Medications Often Used in Older Adults

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Sleep medications often contain antihistamines which can cause confusion, urinary retention, and constipation.
Sleep medications often contain antihistamines which can cause confusion, urinary retention, and constipation.

Over one-third of US adults aged 65 to 80 years report using medications to help them sleep, with 62% reporting use for ≥3 years. The findings come from the latest University of Michigan (U-M) National Poll on Healthy Aging. 

The data was compiled from survey results of 2131 individuals aged 65 to 80; with 46% of respondents reported that they regularly have trouble falling asleep.

Overall, among each medication type (prescription, over-the-counter and herbal/natural aids), 36% reported using some type of medication to aid their sleep. Fourteen percent reported using at least 1 of these medication types on a regular basis and 23% reported occasional use. 

Use of sleep medications among adults age 65-80. Credit: University of Michigan

Talking to a doctor should be the first step in trying to fix sleep problems, said U-M physician and poll director Preeti Malani, MD. However the results of the poll show that of those who reported trouble sleeping on ≥3 nights, just 55% discussed the issue with their doctor; that figure rose to 69% for those who reported trouble sleeping as a significant problem. 

The study authors also addressed the 'false perception' that over-the-counter medications are safe. These medications often contain antihistamines which can cause confusion, urinary retention and constipation. "Use of melatonin and other herbal remedies may be perceived as safer, but less is known about their potential side effects and they are not subject to the FDA's approval process for medications," added Dr Malani.

The American Geriatrics Society, in their most recent Beers Criteria, strongly warns against the use of prescription sleep drugs in older patients. 

Reference

1 in 3 older adults take something to help them sleep - but many aren't talking to their doctors [press release]. Ann Arbor, MI: NPHA; September 27, 2017. Accessed October 18, 2017. 

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