You would think that, by now, giving benzodiazepines (or “benzos”) to seniors would be a thing of the past.
We know that these kinds of drugs can increase your chances of developing Alzheimer’s by a whopping 84 percent. And we know that taking them can double your risk of a car crash or falling and suffering a hip fracture.
We also know that experts have been sounding the alarm about prescribing them to seniors for over two decades.
But according to the numbers, they’re still very much part of our present (including being a perpetual “present” to Big Pharma). These drugs continue to be prescribed to a “sizable percentage” of older adults.
And it’s possible that you could be taking one or more without even realizing it – especially if you’re a little on the older side.
Turning back the tide
Why in the world are benzos still being handed out – especially to those over 65 — like they’re nothing more than benign substances to calm your nerves or help you get to sleep at night?
A team of researchers at the University of Michigan and the University of New South Wales in Australia wanted to find out.
This research team did a lot of sleuthing into how many people over 65 years old are still being given an Rx for these meds in America, Canada, and Australia. And it appears that the number of prescriptions written in the U.S. has actually dropped slightly.
They found that the number of veterans over 65 given a benzo Rx had dropped nearly 2 percent over a 10-year period. The number of first-timers prescribed these meds dropped as well, but that wasn’t even by a full one percent.
But that’s not the whole story.
It’s important to know that for the U.S., the researchers turned to the VA’s fairly accurate records of the drugs it hands out – but it also turns out that the VA has been trying for years now to halt the prescribing of these kinds of meds to older vets.
Well, I did some sleuthing on my own — and I found that whatever little progress the VA is making in reducing benzo use doesn’t appear to be the case anywhere else.
In fact, the drug industry seems pleased as punch at how these meds are selling, even referring to it in a marketing report as the “revival of benzodiazepines.”
That report also claimed that the “tide turned in favor” of benzos in the year 2000, and it’s been looking great ever since. Honestly, I couldn’t believe what I was reading!
Well, I think the time has come for the tide to start going out.
If you’ve been taking a benzo (see the list of some names below) for a while now, you’re at a substantial risk of developing dementia. In fact, the study done three years ago found that seniors taking one of these meds for over 90 days upped their risk of Alzheimer’s by 32 percent.
And if you’re on them for longer than 180 days (even if you stop and start again), that risk jumps to an enormous 84 percent.
But seriously, six months on one of these meds is a mere drop in the bucket. That’s because they’re very addictive, and getting off of them is not easy – which is why it should only be done slowly and under a doctor’s supervision.
You’ve probably heard of some of them, such as Xanax (alprazolam), Valium (diazepam) and Librium (chlordiazepoxide), but the generic names might be unfamiliar. And as I said, it’s entirely possible that you could be taking one for a variety of reasons and not even realize it’s a benzo.
Plus that, there’s another class of meds called Z drugs that work in your brain almost exactly the same as benzos do and come with similar risks. Those include sleep aids such as Ambien, Ambien CR, and Lunesta.
If someone you love has been on these drugs for a while… or even just been given an Rx for the first time… please share this information with them.
And if that “someone” happens to be you, weaning yourself off them is one of the most important decisions you can make. Your ability to think and remember – even your life — could depend on it.
“Progress, but far from perfection, on avoiding risky sedatives in older adults” Michigan Medicine, February 12, 2018, ScienceDaily, sciencedaily.com