Sleep Medication and Falls

Sleep medication and falls have been in the news since medication for sleep problems is often prescribed for patients in the hospital. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Partnership for patient’s project has been examining the problem.

Ambien or zolpidem is often used as a sleep aid in hospitals. However, what do we know about this medication and it's relationship to patient falls?

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In a study by sleep experts at the Mayo Clinic patients who took Ambien were more than four times more likely to fall than those who did not. The study is particularly helpful since the number of subjects where large. The researchers study 4,962 patients who took the drug and compared the number of falls to 11,358 who did not take the medication.

What was particularly troubling was that the risk associated with taking the drug was greater than the dangers associated with age, delirium, insomnia or cognitive impairment.

The researchers also discovered that the use of zolpidem was wide spread in their sample. Just under 39% of eligible admissions during 2010 were prescribed the medication but 88% were prescribed the medication if a sleep aid was needed.

“Ensuring that people get enough sleep during their hospital stay is very important, but it can also prove very challenging,” says the Clinic’s Chief Patient Safety Officer Dr. Timothy I. Morgenthaler, who specializes in sleep disorders and pulmonary and critical care.

“Discovering that zolpidem, which is commonly used in hospitals, is a significant risk factor for patient falls provides us with additional knowledge to help tackle this problem.”

The study revealed that over three percent of the patients on zolpidem fell during their hospital stay. This compared to 0.7 percent of the patients who did not take zolpidem.

As a result of the study, some hospitals are looking at alternatives to medication like zolpidem. Nonpharmacological sleep enhancement techniques such as relaxation therapies may be a viable alternative.

In some hospitals, relaxation exercises and relaxing visual sciences can be transmitted into the patient’s room through their TV at their bedtime. Also, making sure that lighting is reduced will aid the brain in the natural production of melatonin. Limiting noise in hospital environments is a major factor in helping patients sleep better.

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Source: ScienceDaily (Nov. 19, 2012)

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