A recent study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease has brought attention to the potential harm sleep medications can cause in older adults. The study included approximately 3,000 senior participants between the ages of 70 and 79 who lived in Memphis or Pittsburgh and had no history of dementia.
The participants were asked about their sleep medication habits, sleep quality, and frequency of usage starting in 1997. Let’s have a detailed look to find out all about the research!
Who is At a Higher Risk?
The study showed that white adults who reported frequently taking sleep aids had a 79% higher chance of developing dementia than those who rarely or never used them. However, this connection was only seen in white adults, not Black participants. It is important to note that the study only identified an association between sleep medication habits and dementia risk and cannot prove causation.
Study Findings: To quantity everything for more clarity, here are the results in percentage. The findings showed that 7.7% of white participants frequently or almost always took sleep medications, while only 2.7% of Black participants reported the same. Women, those struggling with depression, and the more highly educated were found to have the highest frequency of usage.
Additionally, the study also revealed that benzodiazepine uses for chronic insomnia was twice as high among white seniors compared to Black seniors, and white participants were seven times more likely to take Z-drugs and ten times more likely to take the antidepressant trazodone.
Does the Research Proof the Association of Sleeping Pills With Dementia?
The study's lead author, Yue Leng, emphasized the need for further research to confirm whether sleep medications themselves are harmful to cognition in older adults or if frequent usage is just an indicator of something else that leads to increased dementia risk.
Research Criteria: More Details for More Insights
The study participants were asked about the frequency of their sleep aid usage three times over five years, with options ranging from never, rarely, sometimes, often, or almost always. Sleep aids included over-the-counter and prescription medications, such as antihistamines, melatonin, valerian, antidepressants, antipsychotics, benzodiazepines, and Z-drugs, such as Ambien.
After tracking the participants for up to 15 years, the researchers found that about one-fifth of them developed dementia. White seniors who frequently used sleeping pills faced a 79% higher risk for dementia, but this was not the case for Black seniors, even though far fewer Black adults took sleeping aids frequently.
How Serious are the Affects of Sleeping Pills Regarding Dementia Risk: Should You Lose Your Sleep Over It?
The findings of this study are concerning, particularly for the elderly population. Sleep is crucial in maintaining physical and mental health and for overall well-being. However, older adults often face sleep problems due to physical and psychological changes, making it tempting to turn to sleep medications for help.
The study highlights the need for further research to understand the effects of sleep medications on older adults and to develop alternative and safer sleep solutions for this population. It is also essential to consider the racial disparities in sleep medication usage and its potential harm, which may also reflect disparities in access to healthcare and other social determinants of health.
Another Perspective: Are Sleeping Pills Safe for Everyone?
The study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease raises questions about the safety of sleep medications for older adults and highlights the need for further research to understand the impact of sleep medications on the elderly population. The study's findings should be taken into consideration by older adults and their healthcare providers when deciding on the use of sleep aids, especially in light of the increased risk of dementia seen in white seniors who frequently use sleeping pills.
Study Results and the Racial Gap
The racial gap in the results was surprising, considering prior research suggests that Black people face a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s than white people. Leng suggested this could be because Black adults with access to sleep medications are a selected group with high socio-economic status, which could provide a protective mental health advantage against dementia.
Caution: Griffin also offered cautionary advice, suggesting that before taking any sleep medication, individuals should have a conversation with their doctor to understand potential interactions with other medications and consider their medical history and life story.
In conclusion: Despite the findings, Leng and her team stress that the long-term effects of sleep medications on cognition remain controversial. It could be that certain medications contribute to dementia risk. In contrast, others do not or that sleep problems, which prompt the use of sleep medications, could be a symptom of dementia onset. Leng and Percy Griffin, the director of scientific engagement with the Alzheimer's Association, agreed that additional research is needed.
While the study highlights the potential harm of sleep medications in older adults, it also highlights the need for further research to fully understand the effects of sleep medications on cognition in older adults.