Use of Sleep Medication Associated with Increased Risk of Injurious Falls

A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found a correlation between an increased risk of hip fractures and injuries from falls and the use of nonbenzodiazepine hypnotic drugs. Such drugs are a class of sleep medication prescribed prevalently by health care providers in nursing home settings to help elderly residents cope with insomnia and other sleeping issues. Nursing homes are environments that generally do not prioritize residents’ quality of sleep. Therefore, nursing home residents often experience poor sleep and insomnia because they frequently take daytime naps, are subject to nighttime awakenings, or may be suffering from sleep disorders such as sleep apnea.

Many elderly nursing home residents suffer from falls in nursing homes, and these falls can lead to fractures, complications, and even death. Many of these injurious falls may take place at night due to risk factors such as toileting, urinary continence or incontinence. Initially, nonbenzodiazepine sleep medications were thought to be safer than benzodiazepines, in relation to fall risks. As such, the study found there was an increase in the use of nonbenzodiazepine hypnotic drugs in nursing homes. However, the results of the study showed that there was actually a two-fold increased risk for hip fractures when nonbenzodiazepine hypnotic drugs were used. The study was conducted using a sample of 15,528 long-stay nursing home residents who were 50 years or older. This population exhibited a 66% increase in their risk for hip fracture after 30 days of using such sleep medication.


Unfortunately, because these drugs also have a heightened impact upon the user’s attention, memory, and balance, authors of the study recommend health care providers exercise caution before prescribing such sleep medication to residents in nursing homes. The study put forth several recommendations to reduce the elevated risk of falls occurring within nursing homes due to the administration of such drugs. For example, nursing home staff should closely monitor elderly residents who are administered sleeping medication for fall risks, and should also screen these residents for osteoporosis in order to reduce the risk of fractures that occur. It was also recommended that nursing home staff make an effort to improve resident sleep quality and structure by working to create an environment in which elderly residents could partake in increased daytime activity, providing opportunities through which residents can engage each other socially, and reducing the incidence of daytime naps or time spent awake in bed.

Falls are an increasingly common problem within the elderly population in nursing homes. However, with proper care and adequate staffing, the occurrence of falls can be prevented. Unfortunately, many nursing homes facilities fail to provide enough qualified staff members to supervise and monitor their residents to prevent such falls, as required by law. Furthermore, some of these nursing home facilities even resort to the use of physical and chemical restraints on those residents who have a high risk of falling. However, the use of such restraints is harmful to residents and is a violation of their Patient’s Rights. The experienced attorneys at the Law Offices of Ben Yeroushalmi specialize in handling nursing home neglect and abuse cases. Our team of attorneys possesses great experience in handling cases concerning preventable falls and related injuries. If you believe your loved one has suffered a preventable fall or injury due to nursing home neglect, we encourage you to contact us at (888) 606-3453 for a free consultation today. We are located in both Northern and Southern California and serve cities throughout the state.