Acta Clin Belg. 2003 Jan-Feb;58(1):27-36.

Is there a rationale for prescription of benzodiazepines in the elderly? Review of the literature.

Petrovic M, Mariman A, Warie H, Afschrift M, Pevernagie D.

Service of Internal Medicine, Ghent University Hospital, De Pintelaan 185, B-9000 Ghent, Belgium. mirko.petrovic@rug.ac.be

Benzodiazepines (BZDs) constitute the most widely used symptomatic treatment of insomnia and anxiety. Many of these drugs are associated with adverse effects, such as daytime sedation and dependence with continued use. There is a concern about the rationale for and extent of benzodiazepine (BZD) use in the elderly. The sedation due to BZD use is a main risk factor for falls and other accidents. Impaired cognitive function with continuous use appears to be a major side effect. There is a general awareness that BZD use is inappropriate in many patients, and therefore discontinuation should be recommended whenever possible. Moreover, long-term use of these drugs should be actively discouraged. Although no unanimous recommendations concerning the optimal duration of the withdrawal process exist, BZDs may easily be withdrawn during a short period in most patients who are habituated to a low dose, if an initial phase with dose reduction and psychological support are provided. Alternative approaches involve sleep hygiene guidelines, behavioural treatment and psychotherapy tailored to the needs of the individual patient.