Study: Insomnia, not sleep aids, at fault in elderly falls

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A new study refutes the perception that sleeping pills cause falls in insomniac nursing home residents.

A study of more than 34,000 Michigan nursing home residents over age 65 suggests that the real culprit of falls may actually be the insomnia -- not the medications used to treat it. Residents with partially treated or untreated sleeplessness have a much higher risk of falls than those who take sleep medications and get relief from their insomnia, according to the findings of a study conducted by doctors at the University of Michigan Health System, Ann Arbor.

The study calls into question the assumption that giving hypnotic drugs to nursing home residents leads to falls and the potential of hip fractures, according to Dr. Alon Avidan, one of the authors of the study published online by the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

Nursing home residents with untreated insomnia at the start of the study's six-month period were 90% more likely to fall compared with those who did not have insomnia. Residents given hypnotic drugs to treat their insomnia were only 29% more likely to fall than those without sleep problems.