The study, which involved 25 healthy adults, showed 58 percent of the older adults and 27 percent of the young adults who took a hypnotic, sleep-inducing drug called zolpidem showed a significant loss of balance when awakened two hours after sleep. The findings are important because falls are the leading cause of injury in older adults, and 30 percent of adults 65 and older who fall require hospitalization each year, said CU-Boulder Associate Professor Kenneth Wright, lead study author.
To measure balance, the research team used a technique known as a “tandem walk” in which subjects place one foot in front of the other with a normal step length on a 16-foot-long, six-inch-wide beam on the floor. In 10 previous practice trials with no medication, none of the 25 participants stepped off the beam, indicating no loss of balance. All participants were provided with stabilizing assistance to prevent falls during the trials, he said.
“The balance impairments of older adults taking zolpidem were clinically significant and the cognitive impairments were more than twice as large compared to the same older adults taking placebos,” said Wright, a faculty member in the integrative physiology department. “This suggests to us that sleep medication produces significant safety risks.”
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