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Sleep, pain meds linked to frailty in older adults

05 Nov 2019

The use of prescription medicine to aid with sleep and pain appears to increase frailty among older adults, a recent study has found.

Researchers longitudinally assessed 7,201 elderly adults (aged 65 years) who were free of frailty at baseline and who had at least one follow-up. Those who had received cancer medication in the past were excluded. Participants’ use of sleep and pain medication was collected at each follow-up wave. Its correlation with incident frailty was the primary outcome.

Over five biennial follow-ups, 2,723 participants became frail, resulting in an incidence rate of 37.8 percent. A total of 713 (9.9 percent) individuals died in a nonfrail state. The corresponding frailty incidence rates for co-use, pain-only medication, sleep-only medication and nonuse were 1.9, 1.3, 1.2 and 0.7 per 1,000 person-years.

The cumulative incidence rates of frailty were likewise significantly higher for those who used medications for pain and/or sleep (co-use: 60.6 percent; pain: 50.9 percent; sleep: 45.8 percent; nonuse: 34.1 percent). The same was true for the risk of becoming frail over the 8-year follow-up period.

“To the best of our knowledge, this is the first study demonstrating statistically significant associations between each of these prescription drug exposures and longitudinal risk of frailty,” said researchers, noting that these relationships also persist despite adjustment for three common chronic pain diseases.

Future studies should conduct a more systemic analysis of the frailty risks associated with pain and sleep medications, which may ultimately help direct prescriptions, they added.

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