New York, Dec 21: A class of drugs commonly used by older adults for managing depression and anxiety - such as sleeping pills - may increase the rate of hospital visits, a new study has warned.
Drugs with anticholinergic properties are used by as many as half of older adults and it is not unusual for an older individual to be taking two or more anticholinergic medications regularly.
Sleeping pills, one of the most common medications used by elders, are in this category as are antihistamines, which are available without prescription.
Researchers from Indiana University (IU) in the US analysed actual prescription dispensing data to determine how much anticholinergic medication each person used, known as anticholinergic burden and utilisation of healthcare services such as hospital, emergency department and ambulatory visits.
Prescription dispensing data are known to be more reliable than self-reported information. Fifty-eight per cent of the 3,344 study participants were African-American; 71 per cent were female. Fewer than 10 per cent were cognitively impaired.
"Anticholinergics, the medications that block acetylcholine, a nervous system neurotransmitter, have previously been implicated as a potential cause of cognitive impairment, by us and by other researchers," said Noll Campbell from IU.
"This is the first study to calculate cumulative anticholinergic burden and determine that as burden increases, so does healthcare utilisation in the US - both outpatient and inpatient," said Campbell.
Researchers report that taking a drug with mild anticholinergic effect daily increased the likelihood of inpatient admission by 11 per cent over a year. Many drugs used to treat heart failure and hypertension fall into the mild group, such as diuretics.
Taking a drug with a strong anticholinergic effect daily increased the likelihood of inpatient admission by 33 per cent over a year. The study was published in the journal Phamacotherapy.