April 30, 2014

When Educated and Encouraged, Seniors WILL Try to Stop Taking Risky Meds Like Sleeping Pills

A study published on April 14 in the Journal of American Medical Association Internal Medicine showed that seniors – when they learned more about the dangers of sleeping medications and worked with their doctors to gradually reduce dosages – showed increased success in ditching the meds.

That result seems like a no-brainer. Better informed people make better choices, right? Still, there were doubters who thought patients – especially seniors – wouldn’t be all that willing to play more active roles in their own healthcare and medication use.

“On the contrary: we now have evidence that patients who are better informed make smarter choices," said study leader Dr. Cara Tannenbaum, a geriatrician and professor at the University of Montreal, Canada.

Calling All Chronic Sleeping Pill Users
Here’s how Tannenbaum’s review worked: With the help of Quebec pharmacies, researchers recruited 302 chronic sleeping pill users aged 65-95. Subjects had used sleeping pills for an average of ten years, and were taking about ten different medications every day.

The subjects were randomized into two groups. The first received a seven-page “patient empowerment de-prescribing intervention” which explained pill dangers and encouraged patients to discuss medication-tapering strategies with their doctors. The rest were part of the control group.

This study “intervention” is certainly not the first effort to convince people to stop taking medications that might cause harm. The U.S. Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act has spread the message. The American Board of Internal Medicine Choosing Wisely® campaign has even urged older adults to refrain from using sleeping pills. The American Geriatrics Society has linked these medicines with memory problems, falls, fractures, and motor vehicle accidents.

Still, Tannenbaum’s study seems to be the first to demonstrate that education works.

Data Show Success of Empowerment Interventions
Among the subjects who received the “empowerment intervention,” 62 percent spoke with a healthcare provider about reducing their sleeping pill use. After six months, 27 percent had successfully kicked the pill habit, and another 10 percent were actively tapering.

According to the study’s authors, those results demonstrate that seniors respond to information and become willing, even eager, participants in decisions affecting their own well-being. In addition, said Tannenbaum, “Just because you take a medication for a long time does not mean you can never get off it."

Tannenbaum thinks her findings provide a workable action plan for implementing the recommendation from the Revised Beers Criteria published in the spring of 2012 by the American Geriatrics Society that seniors should avoid sleeping pills and 53 other medications.

She also explained that women use sleeping pills more than men, and that her empowerment intervention proved equally successful for both genders.

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Various news outlets picked up the story about this study, including:

I've written often of my own struggles -- and final success -- with sleeping pills. Here are several of those posts:

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