Certain sleeping pills raise the risk for hip fractures in nursing home residents.

The medications associated with this elevated risk are known as nonbenzodiazepine hypnotic drugs, a class of sleeping medications that includes Lunesta, Sonata, and Ambien.

The finding came from new research conducted by experts from Harvard Medical School, led by Sarah D. Berry, M.D., M.P.H.

“It is important to understand the relationship between sleep medication use and injurious falls in nursing home residents,” the experts wrote. A previous study demonstrated that nursing home residents with dementia are three times more likely to have an injurious fall when they take drugs to treat depression.

A total of 15, 528 long-stay nursing home residents who were at least 50 years old were involved in the study. All of the participants (who had a mean age of 81 years) had a hip fracture on record in Medicare Part A and Part D fee-for-service claims between July 2007 and December 2008.

Eleven percent of the volunteers (1,715) were given a nonbenzodiazepine hypnotic drug prior to their hip fracture.

The scientists discovered that the risk for hip fracture was greater for the residents taking a nonbenzodiazepine hypnotic drug.

According to the results, the participants who took nonbenzodiazepine hypnotic sleep drugs had approximately a two-thirds higher likelihood to experience a hip fracture than those who did not.

The risk was relatively greater among new users of the medications, as well as residents of nursing homes who had mild mental or physical decline, as opposed to those who had serious mental-or physical-health problems.

The authors said:

“The risk for hip fracture is elevated among nursing home residents using a nonbenzodiazepine hypnotic drug. New users and residents having mild to moderate cognitive impairment or requiring limited assistance with transfers may be most vulnerable to the use of these drugs.”

When prescribing sleeping pills to nursing home residents, doctors should take caution, the researchers added.

They concluded :

“Residents, staff, and nursing home administrators need to collaborate to create a culture change within the nursing home that increases daytime activity, improves social engagement, avoids daytime naps, and minimizes awake time in bed for residents. Physicians must also have amore active role to ensure that sleep quality and structure are not impaired by treatable medical or psychiatric conditions and that other sleep disorders commonly seen in the frail elderly (eg, central sleep apnea) are promptly diagnosed and treated.”

Written by Sarah Glynn