Sleeping pills may help you get some kip, but they also might hasten your dementia

Sleeping pills were bad for her health, too.

The Grumbles don’t have much use for sleeping pills.

Damned good thing, as it turns out.

It seems they significantly increase the risk of dementia.

The Daily Mail today draws attention to a Harvard University study.

It found pensioners who used benzodiazepines – which include temazepam and diazepam – are 50 per cent more likely to succumb to the devastating illness.

The researchers regard the side effects of the drugs as so harmful, potentially, that doctors should avoid prescribing them.

Alf, fair to say, has to look things up when they involve words with as many syllables as “benzodiazepines”.

He found out (here) they are prescription medicines most commonly used to treat anxiety and sleep disorders.

Doctors may also prescribe them as muscle relaxants, or to treat epilepsy, alcohol withdrawal or panic disorders. Some people use benzodiazepines illegally to experience their effects and become intoxicated.

Benzodiazepines are a depressant. They work by slowing down the messages travelling around the central nervous system. This makes the user feel relaxed and calm, but tolerance builds quickly and the dosage required to deliver the same effect increases. For this reason benzodiazepines are intended to provide short-term, temporary relief, while the underlying causes of the anxiety or sleep disturbance are treated.

Dunno about this country.

In Britain it is estimated that up to 8 per cent of the over-65s have used them within the last few years to treat insomnia or anxiety.

The Daily Mail (here) says –

But there is growing evidence that they have serious side effects and a number of studies have linked them to falls, memory problems, panic attacks and early death.

Moreover, (just to add to our worries and keep us awake at night if we don’t take sleeping pills) –

Academics from Harvard University in the US and the University of Bordeaux in France discovered that over-65s who had taken the drugs within the last 15 years were 50 per cent more likely to get dementia.

The drugs can only be obtained by a prescription. They work by changing the way messages are transmitted to the brain, which induces a calming effect.

But scientists believe that at the same time they may be interfering with chemicals in the brain known as neurotransmitters, which may be causing dementia.

Naturally, a bloke with the title “professor” is brought into the story to buttress its credibility.

Professor Tobias Kurth, who works jointly at Harvard University’s School of Public Health and the University of Bordeaux, said: ‘There is a potential that these drugs are really harmful.’

On the other hand, he says:

‘If it is really true that these drugs are causing dementia that will be huge. But one single study does not necessarily show everything that is going on, so there is no need to panic.

‘These drugs certainly have their benefits and if you prescribe them in a way they should be prescribed they treat very well.’

The study is published today in the British Medical Journal.

It involved 1,063 men and women over the age of 65 for a period of 20 years in south west France.

Initially none of the participants had dementia and no one was taking benzodiazepines.

The researchers followed them up after 15 years and found that 253 had developed dementia. They worked out that out of 100 not taking the drug, 3.2 would be expected to get the illness.

But among 100 patients on these drugs, 4.8 would get dementia – a significantly higher proportion. The patients had taken the pills at least once – over the course of a week or so – at some point in the previous 15 years.

Your ever-alert member for Eketahuna North makes one observation about those data.

The people studied were French.

This being so, there’s a fair chance they had spent much of their lifetimes drinking wine, rather than beer or (in Alf’s case) a good whisky.

That’s got to have been a factor, surely, on top of the obvious fact that your typical French people too often behaves as if they have dementia compared – for example – with those of us from sturdy British stock.

As for benzodiazepines, the Daily Mail notes that in the last 20 years the number of prescriptions for these have fallen by 40 per cent, largely due to concerns that patients were becoming addicted.

But they remain one of the most commonly used drugs and there are fears some patients are taking them for far too long.

A spokesman for the Alzheimer’s Society is quoted as saying:

‘This is the not the first time it has been suggested that these drugs could have a negative impact on cognition. With this long-term study adding to the evidence, it emphasises how important it is we properly monitor how treatments for anxiety or sleep problems are used.’

Alf can’t recall these sleeping pills popping into considerations much during his career as a legislator (he would like to think his lack of a recollection does not attest to his being on the way to being diagnosed with dementia).

But whoa.

A few years ago, your hard-working member did lend support to legislation to put a stop to boy racing.

The government added a the last-minute inclusion of a ban on driving while affected by benzodiazepine.

This was criticised in a blog (here), which described the drug as a prescription sedative and anti-anxiety medication that is often used as a sleeping pill and (before air travel and other events that cause anxiety) for other reasons.

This blog listed a slew of drugs in the class “Bendodiazepine”, such as Diazepam (Valium), Oxazepam (Serepax, Alopam), and Lorazepam (Ativan), along with the stronger hypnotic and/or skeletal muscle relaxants, Triazolam (Halcion) and Tetrazepam (Mylostan).

Dunno which of these killed Marilyn Monroe.

But Alf remembers being shocked by news of her suicide.

He has steered clear of sleeping pills ever since and knocks himself out instead with a few nips of scotch.

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