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Changing pattern of sedative use in older adults: a population-based cohort study


Background — Benzodiazepine medications have well-documented side effects, and their prescription rates in older adults have been declining. Trazodone and quetiapine are medications with sedative properties when used at low doses and are commonly used off-label for sleep or behavioral symptoms in older adults.

Objective — Our objective was to describe the shifting patterns of sedative prescription in older adults over time by comparing changes in benzodiazepine, trazodone, and quetiapine dispensing between community and long-term care settings.

Methods — We conducted a population-based serial cross-sectional study to compare the patterns of sedative dispensing (specifically, benzodiazepines, trazodone, and quetiapine) to individuals aged ≥66 years between 1 January 2002 and 31 March 2013 in Ontario, Canada. We compared rates of use between long-term care and community settings and used linear regression models to characterize the magnitude and direction of the rate of change in sedative use by age, sex, and dementia status.

Results — The dispensing of trazodone and quetiapine increased over time, and this coincided with a decrease in benzodiazepine dispensing. This pattern was particularly apparent in the oldest cohort and in those with dementia. Benzodiazepines, trazodone, and quetiapine were associated with high rates of psychotropic polypharmacy. Overall trends were similar in long-term care and the community.

Conclusions — While benzodiazepine prescribing is declining among older adults in Ontario over time, there is a corresponding shift towards low-dose, off-label prescribing of trazodone and quetiapine and psychotropic polypharmacy. These prescribing trends highlight sedative substitution and reinforce the need to confirm efficacy and safety of this practice.



Iaboni A, Bronskill SE, Reynolds KB, Wang X, Rochon PA, Herrmann N, Flint AJ. Drugs Aging. 2016; 33(7):523-33. Epub 2016 May 30.

Contributing ICES Scientists