Sleeping pill use linked to more hospital visits

New York: A class of drugs frequently prescribed or purchased over the counter for chronic conditions including sleep problems, depression, anxiety, pain, allergy and incontinence in the elderly is linked to an increased rate of emergency department and hospital utilisation, says a study.

The findings suggest that drugs with anti-cholinergic properties could be harmful.

“Individuals taking anti-cholinergics should talk with their doctors or pharmacists about possible alternatives,” said lead researcher Noll Campbell from Indiana University Center for Aging Research in the US.

While taking a drug with mild anti-cholinergic effect daily increased the likelihood of in-patient admission by 11 percent over a year, using a drug with a strong anti-cholinergic effect daily increased the likelihood of inpatient admission by 33 percent over a year, the study said.

Sleeping pills, one of the most common medications used by elders, are in this category as are anti-histamines, which are available without prescription, according to the study of 3,344 Americans aged 65 and older.

“Anti-cholinergics, the medications that block acetylcholine, a nervous system neurotransmitter, have previously been implicated as a potential cause of cognitive impairment, by us and by other researchers,” Campbell pointed out.

“This new study provides stronger motivation to design and conduct de-prescribing studies to determine safe ways to take individuals off anti-cholinergic medications in the interests of preserving brain health and decreasing healthcare utilization rates and their potential costs,” Campbell noted.

The findings appeared in the journal Phamacotherapy.