Objective: To investigate the prevalence of long-term benzodiazepine use in an elderly community sample, and factors associated with such use.
Method: Data came from the Sydney Older Persons Study, a longitudinal study of people aged 75 or over. There were 337 subjects who were interviewed in 1991-93, and subsequently followed up after three and 4.5 years. At the first interview, subjects were assessed for socio-demographic characteristics, physical and mental health, and use of health services. At the first and subsequent interviews, subjects were asked about use of medications, including benzodiazepines.
Results: There were 16.6% who were using benzodiazepines at the time of all three interviews, while a further 19.6% were using them at one or two interviews. In a multivariate ordered logit regression model, long-term benzodiazepine use was associated with treatment for nervous conditions, restless sleep, being female, being divorced and greater contact with medical services.
Conclusions: The prevalence of benzodiazepine use in the elderly is high and much of this use is long term. The high prevalence of benzodiazepine use stands in contrast to the findings from national surveys that the elderly living in the community tend to have better mental health than younger age groups.
Implications: Efforts are needed to reduce the number of elderly people becoming long-term users. The use of benzodiazepines in this age group is of particular concern, because they may be a risk factor for falls and for cognitive impairment in the elderly.