Study Shows Benzodiazepines are Prescribed in Excess to the Elderly

Benzodiazepines, which include prescription drugs Xanax and Valium, are a class of drugs most often used to treat anxiety. While benzodiazepines are commonly prescribed to treat a variety of physical and mental health conditions, one study shows that anti-anxiety medications are prescribed in excess to seniors. Here, the home care providers at Avila Home Care give an overview of a Harvard study on overprescription of benzodiazepines as well as some methods for alleviating anxiety symptoms naturally.

 Benzodiazepines are Used to Treat Anxiety

Thought to function by regulating neurotransmitters in the brain, benzodiazepines are commonly prescribed as a treatment for patients suffering from anxiety disorders, sleeping problems, panic attacks, seizures and insomnia. Generic benzodiazepines end in the suffix “-pam” or “-lam,” and the most common types of benzodiazepines on the market include Valium, or diazepam; Ativan, or lorazepam; and Xanax, or alprazolam. These pharmaceutical drugs are thought to calm the brain and body, providing relief from the physical and mental symptoms of anxiety.

Harvard Study Points to Overprescription of Benzodiazepines

Despite a significant population of adults over the age of 60 being prescribed benzodiazepines to regulate anxiety symptoms or sleeping problems, a review published in the September/October 2018 Harvard Review of Psychiatry found that benzodiazepines were prescribed in excess to what is deemed appropriate. The research was led by Dr. Lauren Gerlach, an assistant professor with the University of Michigan’s psychiatry department, who looked at the effectiveness of benzodiazepines on older adults being treated for insomnia, anxiety disorders and dementia.

Dr. Gerlach’s research also showed that long-term use of benzodiazepines is more common among older individuals, and long-term reliance on these drugs can lead to problematic side effects such as disorientation and memory loss. In addition, deaths involving benzodiazepines have grown by eight times from 2002 to 2016, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and the drugs are involved in over 30% of opioid-related overdoses.

Age Intensifies Benzodiazepine Side Effects

Because sedation, dizziness, depression, memory problems and weakness are common side effects of taking benzodiazepines, these drugs can pose a heightened danger to the older generation, who are already susceptible to experiencing these symptoms due to age. Disorientation as a result of benzodiazepines can increase the risk of falls and injury in the elderly, and overprescription of drugs to the elderly can also lead to dependence on these drugs which are meant for short-term use.

 Anxiety Can Be Reduced Without Reliance on Medication

While individuals with severe anxiety problems may require anti-anxiety medication in order to function and complete daily tasks, there are natural methods for easing anxious feelings without requiring prescription medication. Meditation, walks in nature, reading, breathing exercises, nutrition and quality sleep are just a few practices for reducing anxiety naturally, and while they may not act as a cure for the condition, they can help relieve major symptoms, boost mood and improve overall quality of life. Always talk to your medical care provider about the anti-anxiety regimen that is right for you and your lifestyle.

 The Home Care Providers at Avila Home Care Are Here to Help

While anxiety can severely diminish your happiness and quality of life, the alarming statistics involved in overprescription of benzodiazepines suggests the medical community may need to find alternative solutions for treating anxiety, particularly in the older generation. The home care providers at Avila Home Care are dedicated to ensuring your aging-in-place experience is as comfortable as possible and can help you find a routine for managing anxiety that works best for you. For more information on how the elder care professionals at Avila Home Care can help you age-in-place, contact Avila Home Care today.

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