HealthDay News — Many seniors are prescribed benzodiazepines despite the risks for falls, confusion, and other adverse events, according to a study published in JAMA Psychiatry.

The analysis included national data from 2008. The researchers found that 5.2% of Americans aged 18 to 80 (11.5 million people) were prescribed benzodiazepines. Of people between the ages of 18 and 35, 2.6% were prescribed benzodiazepines. But among those aged 65 to 80, 8.7% were on the drugs, according to the study.

Almost one-third of seniors given these medications stayed on them for at least four months, the researchers found. Long-term use may make the medications less effective. There’s also a greater risk of dependence on the drugs with long-term use.

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According to a Columbia University Medical Center news release, the researchers hope the study is a wake-up call for health care professionals. They suggested that health care professionals could teach older adults who have trouble sleeping or experience anxiety about non-drug options for their problems. 

“Examples include increasing light-to-moderate exercise, promoting supportive relationships, ensuring adequate exposure to natural light, avoiding stimulants such as caffeine late in the day, avoiding naps, establishing a regular, relaxing bedtime routine, and accepting that quality of sleep naturally tends to decline as we age,” lead author Mark Olfson, MD, MPH, a professor of psychiatry at the Columbia University Medical Center in New York City, said in the news release.


  1. Olfson M et al. JAMA Psychiatry. 2014; doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2014.1763.