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Giving Sleeping Pills To Dementia Patients With Insomnia May Raise Fracture Risk By 40 Percent

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Many dementia patients struggle to sleep but the findings of a new study have warned that giving sleeping pills to these patients may raise their risk of broken bones.

Sleeping Pills And Increased Risk Of Fractures

In a study presented at the Alzheimer's Association annual meeting in Chicago on Tuesday, Chris Fox, from the University of East Anglia in Great Britain, and colleagues looked at the effects of the commonly prescribed sleep drug zolpidem, zopiclone and zaleplon, or the so-called- Z-drugs on dementia patients.

Z-drugs are often prescribed for people suffering from insomnia but they are thought to cause increased confusion and other problems such as fractures, resulting from falls. Researchers said that people with dementia are particularly vulnerable and it is not clear if the drugs are especially harmful to them.

The researchers studied the data of dementia patients who took the drugs under the brand names Lunesta, Ambien and Sonata, and those who did not take the drugs.

Analysis revealed that those who took the sleeping pills had a 40 percent increased risk of any type of fracture. The risk also increased with higher doses of the drugs.

Fox and colleagues also found that the sleep drugs were also linked to increased risk of hip fractures. Fractures, especially hip fractures, are known to increase the risk of premature death.

Alternative Treatments For Dementia Patients With Sleep Problems

Fox and colleagues discouraged the use of Z-drugs for dementia patients and called for alternative treatments.

"Fractures in people with dementia can have a devastating impact, including loss of mobility, increased dependency, and death. We desperately need better alternatives to the drugs currently being prescribed for sleep problems and other non-cognitive symptoms of dementia," Fox said.

Fox said that people with dementia should avoid taking Z-drugs if the sleep disturbance can be managed in other ways. For patients prescribed with Z-drugs, they should receive care that can reduce or prevent the occurrence of falls.

The Alzheimer's Association cited non-drug treatments that can help promote rest in people with Alzheimer's disease, the most common form of dementia.

These include avoidance of alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine, regular daily exercise, having regular times for meals and sleeping, morning light exposure, using the bed only for sleeping, and not watching televisions during periods of wakefulness.

"Non-drug coping strategies should always be tried before medications, since some sleep medications can cause serious side effects," the health organization said.

Scott Feldstein | Flickr

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