The Problem with Sleeping Pills for the Elderly

You may remember the comedienne, Irene Ryan as Granny in the Beverly Hillbillies, but does the name Jerry Brutsche ring a bell? He was her stunt double for 20 episodes from 1963 to 1970. So, when Granny—after making and sampling a batch of moonshine—would do cartwheels, chances are it was actually her stunt double Jerry risking life and limb.

Since it’s unlikely that you have a stunt double, you’re on your own when it comes to handling slips, falls and cartwheels. So, if you’re 65 or older and are going to start using prescription sleeping pills or 'Z-drugs' (zolpidem, zaleplon and zopiclone), watch your step! Your odds of falling and fracturing a hip are more than doubled the first two weeks of your new prescription, and that’s a serious risk. According to a study in BioMEd Central, 20 percent of women and 30 percent of men over 65 years old die within 12 months of a hip fracture.

Our advice:

  • Check to make sure a medication, such as an antidepressant, corticosteroid, diuretic or antihypertensive, isn’t the cause of your insomnia.
  • Ramp up daily walking (get sun exposure!) and other exercise. It’ll dispel stress, reset your body clock and ease joint and muscle pain.
  • Before bedtime, mindful meditation will quiet your mind.
  • Join a club or volunteer. Increasing social interaction eases stress, making sleep easier.

Then, if your doctor thinks an insomnia medication is still needed, make sure you’re steady on your feet getting out of bed, and exercise caution walking around.

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ep we need changes as we age, from 16 to 18 hours a day for newborns to 7 to 8 hours a night for adults. If you find yourself feeling tired or fatigued during the day even after a full night in bed, you may have a sleep disorder. See your family doctor or a sleep specialist for help.