Background: Hypnotics are commonly used by older adults, yet little is known about the patterns of their use and effectiveness in this population.
Methods: Three thousand eight hundred sixty anonymous, self-report surveys were distributed to community pharmacies (n=356) across Canada to obtain information on the patterns of use of hypnotics from elderly volunteers.
Results: The mean age of respondents was 72+/-7 years (range 60 to 95 years) and 66% were women. In the past year, 53% of respondents used hypnotics. Prescription products accounted for 83% of the past year's use (66% benzodiazepines, 11% zopiclone, 4% antidepressants, 2% opioids), and 17% of the products used were over-the-counter (5% herbal, 5% antihistamines, 3% analgesics). Use was regular (50% daily) and chronic (mean duration six years: range two weeks to 30 years). Hypnotics significantly (P<0.001) improved subjective sleep latency (mean 32 min compared with 93 min), number of nocturnal awakenings (mean two compared with four) and total hours of sleep (mean 7 h compared with 4 h). Effectiveness was highly rated: at the most recent use of the product, mean 7.6 (SD+/-2.2) of 10; initially, 7.9 (SD+/-2.3) with a significance of P=0.02. Most respondents (59%) reported side effects, mainly dry mouth (30%), memory problems (22%) and daytime sleepiness (22%), although 60% rated the side effects as mild. The mean number of other medications used was five (range zero to 17). Of the 54 subjects who used nonprescription sleep products, only half (52%) indicated that their physician was aware of this use.
Conclusions: Prescription drugs were primarily used for sleep and were perceived to be effective even with long term use, despite mild side effects.