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Sleeping Pills Won’t do Seniors Much Good, Choosing Wisely Canada Says

Nearly one third of older people take sleeping pills despite the risks and harm they can cause. There are safer and better ways to improve sleep or reduce anxiety. Dr. Wendy Levinson, Chair of Choosing Wisely, lists alternatives in managing sleep in older adults.

Sleeping pills don’t provide enough extra sleep for older Canadians to warrant the risk of deadly side effects — and doctors and patients alike should think twice about their use, Dr. Wendy Levinson, chair of Choosing Wisely Canada, said today.

Nearly one third of older people take sleeping pills even though they have special risks for this age group, Dr. Levinson said. There are safer and better ways to improve sleep or reduce anxiety.

Sleeping pills affect the brain and spinal cord as sedative-hypnotics or tranquilizers. Side effects for seniors can range from next-day drowsiness to constipation and trouble urinating. They also can double the risk of falls and hip fractures which are common among seniors.

“The ads may promise lots of blissful sleep, but studies show those who use sleeping pills only sleep a little longer and better than those who don’t,” Dr. Levinson said. “Seniors and their doctors should look hard at nondrug treatments just as they should be holding healthy conversations generally about unnecessary testing and treatment.”

Nondrug treatments that should be discussed with physicians include everything from regular exercise to avoiding caffeine after 3 p.m., or earlier in some cases.

Dr. Levinson made the comments in conjunction with an announcement that 12 additional medical specialty societies and six new community partners have joined the Choosing Wisely Canada campaign.  The new partners bring the number of specialty societies and community partners participating in the campaign to 21 and 6 respectively.

View full press release.

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