Frequent use of sleeping pills may boost dementia risk in some adults

Research presented during the Alzheimer's Association International Conference 2019 details a link between the frequent use of sleep medication and increased risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. The link between Alzheimer's development and frequent use of sleep medication was evaluated across both race and sex, revealing that some people may be at greater risk than others.

The study originates from the University of California, San Francisco, where researchers focused on participants who were 70- to 79-years-old and enrolled in the Health, Aging and Body Composition study. These participants didn't have dementia when their involvement in the study began.

The participants were followed over the course of 15 years to determine whether they developed dementia. As well, the participants reported their use of sleep medication, stating whether they used these drugs 'sometimes,' 'often,' or 'almost always.' The study evaluated both men and women and split them into categories based on race.

According to the study, 2.7-percent of black participants and 7.7-percent of white participants reported taking sleep medications either 'often' or 'almost always.' The participants who reported taking sleep medications with either of these frequencies were found to have a 43-percent greater chance of developing dementia compared to participants who rarely or never took the drugs, but there was a catch.

The increased risk was only associated with white participants in the study, according to the Alzheimer's Associations' presentation. There were no differences in risk between men and women, however, and the study didn't find increased dementia risk in participants who took sleeping pills less often. The study's lead author Yue Leng, PhD, explained:

Based on our findings, we recommend that clinicians make more effort to be aware of their patients' sleep problems including use of sleep aids. In particular, clinicians may need to be more cautious about prescribing sleep medications to older adults who are at high risk for dementia. There are non-pharmacological sleep treatment options that should be considered.