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Too Many Seniors Taking Sleeping Pills, Report Finds

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Too many senior citizens are taking sleeping pills, says a new report from Choosing Wisely Canada. Research shows that a staggering one in three seniors are currently taking medication to help them sleep at night.

That’s a problem because sleeping pills can be dangerous when taken by people over age 65. Potential side effects include next-day drowsiness (which can cause people to be careless, particularly behind the wheel), constipation, difficulty urinating, and falls causing fractures.

Dr. Wendy Levinson, who helped produce the Choosing Wisely Canada report, says people need to recognize that taking sleeping pills isn’t a guarantee that one will have a solid night’s sleep or wake up feeling rested and rejuvenated.

“The ads may promise lots of blissful sleep, but studies show those who use sleeping pills only sleep a little longer and better than those who don’t,” Levinson said. “Seniors and their doctors should look hard at non-drug treatments just as they should be holding healthy conversations generally about unnecessary testing and treatment.”

Levinson says seniors who have trouble sleeping should consider getting more physical exercise and avoiding caffeine (in the form of tea, coffee, or soda) in the late afternoon and evening.

Levinson, who is responsible for bringing the Choosing Wisely campaign to Canada from the U.S., says the program is about helping doctors and patients make better decisions about treatment. For example, the electronic system used by Toronto’s North York Hospital will now remind physicians of the dangers posed by prescribing sleeping pills to patients over age 65.

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