Ambien May Pose Risks for Elderly

The sleep aid <"">Ambien (zolpidem) has been linked to an array of side effects from sleep walking and eating to sleep driving; however an emerging study has now linked the popular medication to adverse effects in older and younger patients, said Consumer Affairs. Worldwide, zolpidem is also marketed under the brands Zolpimist, Edluar, Hypogen, Somidem, Stilnoct, and Ivedal, in addition to Ambien.

A University of Colorado at Boulder study looking at 25 healthy adults found that more than half—58 percent—of older adults and 27 percent of younger adults taking Ambien exhibited a serious balance loss when awakened after two hours of sleep, wrote Consumer Affairs. A paper on the subject was published in the Journal of the American Geriatric Society, January 13th.

This potentially severe reaction can increase risks for injury, including night-time falls. Because falls are the primary cause of injury in older adults, the findings are significant. CU-Boulder Associate Professor Kenneth Wright, one of the study’s authors, wrote that 30 percent of elderly adults need to be hospitalized every year for falls.

Ambien also enhances what the researchers called “sleep inertia,“ known as grogginess or that state when one’s working memory is impaired, when awakened two hours into Ambien-induced sleep, said Consumer Affairs. “The balance impairments of older adults taking zolpidem were clinically significant and the cognitive impairments were more than twice as large compared to the same older adults taking placebos,” said Wright, a faculty member in the integrative physiology department, quoted Consumer Affairs. According to Wright, this implies that Ambien produces some serious risks.

The team employed a “tandem walk,” which involves subjects placing one foot in front of the other in a normal foot step on a floor beam six inches wide and 16 feet long, explained Consumer Affairs. Mental cognition test were then conducted. In every case, participants were negatively impacted by Ambien. Researchers noted that some impact could have been attributed to participants being tired; however, the team did measure balance and cognition in aware, alert adults who were not taking Ambien and who were kept awake for two hours past their typical sleep time said Consumer Affairs. About 25 percent of this group failed the tandem test.

In older adults, falls are directly linked with caused millions of nonfatal injuries and over 300,000 deaths each year, worldwide said Consumer Affairs.
”Falls can be very debilitating, especially when older people break their hips and require hospitalization, causing their quality of life to go down,” said Wright. Cognitive impairments and sleep inertia linked to Ambien could, said the team, impact decision-making, citing how patients could respond to fire alarms, medical emergencies, driving to emergency rooms or clinics, and caring for others in one’s household, said Consumer Affairs.

We previously wrote that Ambien was linked to six deaths in the United Kingdom and a large number of adverse reactions, according to the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), since 2001; there were also nearly 200 other incidents of adverse reactions, ranging from psychiatric and cardiac disorders to injuries and eye disorders reported to the MHRA since 2001. A total of 197 suspected adverse drug reactions have also been reported in connection with Ambien.

Research by Australia’s Federal Health Department linked zolpidem to incidents of strange behavior, including a woman who painted her front door while still asleep. Problems have emerged in America, where some people were injured by cars driven by people under the influence of the drug.

Ambien, which is in the drug class nonbenzodiazepines (NBZs), has been connected to amnesia and erratic behavior. The WHO Collaborating Center for International Drug Monitoring received 867 reports—through early 2007—from 24 countries of people encountering amnesia, often coupled with confusion, agitation, and other behavior disturbances. People under the influence of NBZs have gone on eating binges, driven their cars, and engaged in other activities that they later cannot remember and people have had serious car accidents and even set fire to their homes while in the seemingly-hypnotic state sometimes caused by NBZs.

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