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Int J Geriatr Psychiatry. 1999 Apr;14(4):280-4.

Benzodiazepine use among the elderly in the community.

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  • 1Mercer's Institute for Research on Ageing, St. James's Hospital, Dublin, Ireland.


Benzodiazepines are the most commonly prescribed psychotropic drug in the elderly. Benzodiazepines with a long duration of action can produce marked sedation and psychomotor impairment in older people, and are associated with an increased risk of hip fracture and of motor vehicle crash. One thousand seven hundred and one individuals of 65 years and over, identified from General Practitioner lists, were interviewed using the Geriatric Mental State-AGECAT package and current psychotropic drug use was recorded. Benzodiazepines were classified as having a short or long elimination half-life. Two hundred and ninety-five (17.3%) individuals were taking a benzodiazepine, with use in females being twice that in males. Of the 295, 152 (51.5%) were taking a long acting benzodiazepine and the use of long acting anxiolytic type benzodiazepines was particularly common. Fifty-two (17.6%) benzodiazepine users were taking one or more other psychotropic drugs. A benzodiazepine was used by eight of 18 (44.4%) subjects with an anxiety disorder, 62 of 180 (34.4%) individuals with depression, and seven of 71 (9.9%) people with dementia. Four-fifths of older people on a psychotropic drug were taking a benzodiazepine, highlighting the importance of this class of drug in the elderly population. The choice of a benzodiazepine with a long duration of action, which have been shown to be associated with serious adverse events in the elderly in over one half of benzodiazepine users, is of concern. The potential for adverse effects was further accentuated by polypharmacy practices. The choice of benzodiazepine for an older person has important consequences and should be addressed in greater detail with primary care.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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