New research from the Oregon Research Institute (ORI) and Florida Atlantic University (FAU) suggests there may be a link between prescription drugs for pain, sleep, and frailty in adults aged 65 and older. This study is the first to demonstrate the significant links between the frailty and the drugs, including analgesics and sedatives.
Frailty consists of deficits in a variety of functions and has been shown to be a predictor of loss of independence, increased use of healthy care resources, and mortality. Unfortunately, many seniors are affected with frailty, so studies such as this are crucial in helping to find treatments and reduce the risk.
The results published online in the Journal of the American Geriatric Society estimated the long-term risks of two classes of prescription drugs and long-term frailty risks. Researchers selected a large cohort of community-living, non-frail older adults aged 65 to 104 from the HRS.
Increased Risk of Frailty
Over eight years of follow up, those who self-reported regular use of prescription drugs for pain and sleep had a 95 percent increased risk of frailty compared to those who did not regularly use these drugs. For participants who used regular prescription drugs for pain only or for sleep only, the increased risks were 58 percent and 35 percent respectively.
“Co-use of multiple prescription medications is a growing phenomenon, especially among older adults,” said Juyoung Park, Ph.D., associate professor in FAU’s Phyllis and Harvey Sandler School of Social Work within the College for Design and Social Inquiry. “Geriatric medicine societies, including the American Geriatric Society, have developed guidelines to help prescribers avoid potentially inappropriate prescribing or PIP, which requires assessment of several types of PIP, including the benefits and risks associated with certain drug classes.”
“Our study shows that regular self-reported use and co-use of prescription drugs for pain and for sleep are significantly associated with increased incidence of frailty,” said senior scientist Andrew Bergen, Ph.D. “We recommend further research to estimate the frailty risk of pain and sleep measures and of prescription pain and sleep drugs.”
Unfortunately, frailty often leads to pain and the need for medicine to manage the pain. And interestingly, the frequency of both pain and frailty increases with age, and they often co-exist. This study is just the beginning of research to understand the connection between prescription drug use and frailty in seniors.
The possible implications found by this study are especially se rious given that it is common for older Americans to use two or more prescription drugs at the same time. Many of these drugs are for pain and sleep. The increase in frailty associated with the prescription drugs will give health care providers an idea as to what is causing frailty. It may hopefully also persuade physicians to suggest other treatments for pain and sleep disruptions.