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Sleeping Pills May Not Increase Fall Risk

Armen Hareyan's picture

ANN ARBOR, Mich. - In nursing homes across the country, elderly people with insomnia often go untreated, because of the perception that sleeping pills increase the risk of falls and injuries that are a bane of old age.

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But a large new University of Michigan Health System study suggests that the real culprit may be the underlying insomnia, rather than the medications used to treat it. Residents with untreated, or partially treated, sleeplessness have a much higher risk of falls than those who take sleep medications and get relief from their insomnia.

Even though medications are only one way of treating insomnia, the new finding has implications for the way sleep problems are addressed - or not addressed - in nursing homes, and perhaps for the prevention of falls that often trigger major health crises in the elderly.

"Many physicians assume that when an older patient has insomnia, and is given a hypnotic drug to help induce sleep, the drug will make the patient likely to fall and develop a hip fracture," says U-M sleep specialist Alon Avidan, M.D., MPH, first author of the study published online by the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.