Carers of dementia patients may need to be mindful of the sleeping pills being given to the patients as new research revealed that strong sleeping pills, otherwise known as "Z-drugs," may increase the risk of strokes, fractures, or falls.
A study titled, "Adverse effects of Z-drugs for sleep disturbance in people living with dementia," which was published in the journal BMC Medicine, revealed that higher doses of Z-drugs in dementia patients has been linked with increased risk of fracture and stroke.
Researchers from the University of East Anglia's Norwich Medical School collected data on more than 27,000 dementia patients in England, with an average age of 83, who were diagnosed between 2000 and 2016. Out of the 27,000, there were 3,500 who were prescribed Z-drugs. These drugs include zopiclone, zaleplon (Sonata), and zolpidem (Ambien).
The researchers studied the outcome of the Z-drugs on patients and they found that out of those who have prescribed these drugs, 17 percent of them received higher doses. These patients who had higher doses also showed an increased risk of fractures and falls, more specifically hip fractures and stroke, as compared to the group who were not taking any form of medication for sleep disturbance.
Chris Fox, one of the authors of the study, said in a university news release that Z-drugs are often prescribed to aid people in sleeping. He noted that these drugs were not licensed for dementia. About 90 percent of those suffering from dementia experience sleep disturbances. Worse, when these patients do not enjoy the right sleep, it creates a big impact on both their physical and mental health.
Fox noted that their research would show that a higher dose of Z-drugs must be avoided, if possible, in people who have dementia. Other non-pharmacological alternatives may be considered. He advised that for patients who have been using the drug in higher doses, they must not stop taking it abruptly but they should seek advice from their physicians first.
Alzheimer's Disease International stated that there are more than 50 million people in the world who are living with dementia in 2020. It predicted that every 20 years, the number would double and could reach 82 million in 2030.