Sleeping pill might make seniors prone to falls

Healthy adults age 60 and older who take sleeping pills are at higher risk for nighttime falls and injury if they are woken in the night.

Healthy adults age 60 and older who take sleeping pills are at higher risk for nighttime falls and injury if they are woken in the night.

People taking the sleep-inducing drug known generically as zolpidem showed a significant loss of balance when awakened two hours after sleep, researchers said in this week's issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Association.

The findings are important because falls are a leading cause of injury in older adults, and 30 per cent of adults 65 and older who fall need to be hospitalized each year, said the study's lead author, Kenneth Wright of the University of Colorado at Boulder.

People should not avoid taking sleep medications, which have their place in treating insomnia, Wright said, but should be aware of the drug's temporary effects.

"Just having insomnia itself increases your risk of falls, even without sleep medication," he said in a news release.

In the study of 25 healthy adults, researchers measured balance by having participants walk on a beam on the floor and tested cognition by asking the subjects to solve simple math problems.

Each participant performed the two tests 10 times while on zolpidem and 10 times while on a placebo.

All had perfect balance and clear thinking when they were awoken after taking a placebo. But 58 per cent of the 12 participants who were over the age of 60 fell off the beam when they were roused after taking zolpidem, the researchers found.

One possible solution to reducing falls of older people who use zolpidem or other sleep medications would be to install bedside commodes for those who wake up frequently in the night to go the washroom, Wright suggested.