Beware of Benzodiazepines — Study Shows
Prescription sleep aides now are linked to dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, a recent study shows.
The study, published in the British Medical Journal, targets benzodiazepines, which doctors recommend to patients with anxiety, as well as insomnia. Long-term use of the little pills poses a 50-percent increased risk of memory loss.
“Unwarranted long-term use of these drugs should be considered as a public health concern,” French researcher Sophie Billioti de Gage wrote in the “Benzodiazepine use and risk of Alzheimer’s disease: case-control study.”
Billioti de Gage and her team followed about 2,000 participants with Alzheimer’s disease living in Quebec. Each was age 66 or older, and each was taking a benzodiazepine.
While the drug’s link to dementia was proved, it was not clearly understood, Dr. Eric Karran, of Alzheimer’s Research UK, wrote in an article on the dementia-research charity’s Web site.
“This study shows an apparent link between the use of benzodiazepines and Alzheimer’s disease although it’s hard to know the underlying reason behind the link,” Karran wrote. “One limitation of this study is that benzodiazepines treat symptoms such as anxiety and sleep disturbance, which may also be early indicators of Alzheimer’s disease. We know that the processes that lead to Alzheimer’s could start more than a decade before any symptoms show. This study looks at benzodiazepine use five to ten years before diagnosis, and so the disease is likely to have already been present in some people.”
He concluded more research is needed to find the answer.
Guy Goodwin, of the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology, offered the theory that benzodiazepines could be taken by patients who already have onsets of Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia.
Public-health concerns have arisen from the study because an estimated 6 million prescriptions for benzodiazepines were written for 1.5 million patients in England, The Telegraph reported. The study supports an older one conducted two years ago on French patients that found the same percentage of risk associated with the long-term use of sleep aids: 50 percent.
Americans know such sleep aids by the popular brand names Ativan, Valium and Xanax. Experts say they should be taken no longer than three months at a time.
If you’re having trouble sleeping, here are some tips on how to cope without popping potentially dangerous pills:
Talk with your doctor about how to wean yourself off your prescription. He or she likely will decrease your dose as opposed to stopping it outright, which could lead to worsened anxiety or insomnia. “When you taper off, you’ll still likely experience some discomfort, but it’ll be manageable instead of intolerable,” Dr. Khaleel Ahmed, of Parkway Sleep Health Centers in Cary, N.C., told Prevention.
- Set a bedtime and stick to it. Consider using eye masks and / or white-noise generators for a more conducive sleep environment.
- Don’t eat big meals at night and experiment with natural sleep remedies such as a glass of warm milk or a cup of herbal tea.
- Get regular exercise, as workouts promote a better sleep experience.