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Dr Fiona Williams.

Seniors taking sleeping tablets for decades, unaware of side effects

Older Australians are using sleeping tablets for longer than what’s recommended and may be better off laying off them altogether, recent research has found.

The study, published in the journal Australian Family Physician, found that patients were often unaware of the side effects and addictive traits of benzodiazepines, with some using the drug for more than 20 years, despite studies showing they provide limited benefit when used for longer than two to four weeks.

Study lead Dr Fiona Williams, from the University of Wollongong School of Medicine, said it’s estimated that 15 per cent of Australians aged 65 and older use benzodiazepines.

“Benzodiazepines have a significant negative health impact on the elderly, including an increased risk of falls, fractures, road traffic accidents and cognitive decline, yet they continue to be used,” Williams said.

Her team surveyed elderly patients in the Illawarra region about their use and knowledge of benzodiazepines, and their attitudes about cessation.

“Our study found that the initiation of benzodiazepine use was often at a time of stress for the patient,” Williams said. “Long-term use was not intended, and patients conveyed poor awareness of the side effects and addictive potential of benzodiazepines.”

Aged Care Insite sat down with Williams to discuss what’s needed to reduce overuse of benzodiazepines and what people should know when they stop taking the medication.

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