Sleeping pill dependence in elderly remains high

By Lee I-chia  /  Staff reporter

Thu, Nov 05, 2015 - Page 4

The prevalence of the use of sleeping pills by elderly people has been more than 40 percent for a decade, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) yesterday said, urging people to be aware of drug dependence.

Regular use of sleeping pills by elderly people is associated with a higher risk of bone fractures, a psychiatrist said.

FDA Division of Controlled Drugs Deputy-Director Liu Shu-fen (劉淑芬) said National Health Insurance data from 2013 showed that among 2.69 million elderly people, about 1.09 million — close to 41 percent — have taken sleeping pills. That number is estimated to have grown to more than 1.17 million this year.

“The prevalence rate is about 3 times that of people aged between 25 and 44 and about 1.5 times higher than people aged between 45 and 64,” she said, adding that many elderly people take sleeping pills because of other illnesses that cause insomnia, but some might have developed addictions.

She said commonly used sleeping pills include benzodiazepines and z-drugs such as, Zolpidem, Zopiclone and Zaleplon, which not only help patients fall asleep, but can also serve as antidepressants and muscle relaxants, but could have side effects including dizziness, headache, daytime drowsiness and slowed reaction times.

He said elderly people taking high doses of sleeping pills or taking more than two types of sleeping pills increase the risk of bone fractures due to drugs’ side affects.

Chang said a 73-year-old woman who had suffered from insomnia for more than a month bought sleeping pills without a prescription and took more than two before falling asleep. On waking she was unable to stand properly and fractured her hipbone in a fall, Chang said.

Liu said sleeping pills are controlled drugs and people should consult doctors before purchasing them.

Chang advised elderly patients who are taking sleeping pills, as well as their family members, to be more cautious.