PhotoHealth officials in recent years have expressed concern about the medication prescribed for older adults, particularly opioid painkillers.

But two researchers at the University of Alabama Birmingham (UAB) also worry that the growing use of prescription sleep medicines containing zolpidem among older drivers is a hazard, leading to more car accidents.

“Due to the side effects of such drugs, including drowsiness upon waking and impaired coordination, current zolpidem users age 80 and older, as well as those who are female, experienced higher rates of accidents than nonusers,” study co-author John Booth III said in a release.

Booth and fellow researcher Gerald McGwin are recommending health care practitioners take a new look at zolpidem prescribing guidelines, particularly for older patients.

Troubling trends

Booth and McGwin studied the unadjusted five-year motor vehicle collision rate for North Central Alabama. They found it was 46% higher for people taking zolpidem. The trend among women was more troubling.

They say the collision rate was 65% higher for females while just 23% higher for males who used zolpidem.

More troubling still was the data on Zolpidem users who were 80 years of age and older. Their unadjusted five-year motor vehicle collision rate was 124% higher for zolpidem users compared with nonusers.

Sleep aid alternatives

For older adults who drive, the researchers point to alternative sleep aids, recommended by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). They include relaxation techniques, melatonin supplements, and mind and body approaches such as meditation, as well as stimulus control such as consistent sleep schedules, and avoiding caffeine and alcohol.

A late 2015 study also raised an alarm over the amount of powerful prescription drugs prescribed for seniors.

In an analysis of Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) data, researchers at found that drugs paid for by taxpayers under Medicare Part D include barbiturates and benzos, two types of drugs the American Geriatrics Society (AGS) warns should not be given to people age 65 and older.

Both drug types are on the Beers List, a catalog of drugs seniors should avoid because of their potential for causing dependence and other negative side effects.

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