Despite evidence for many potential risks, use of benzodiazepines (BZDs) among older adults is common. The authors evaluated the available evidence for BZD effectiveness and tolerability for use in older adults in three psychiatric conditions for which BZDs are commonly prescribed: insomnia, anxiety disorders, and behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia.
Electronic databases, including PubMed/MEDLINE, were searched to identify articles that (1) included patients ≥50 years of age, (2) focused on patients diagnosed with insomnia, anxiety disorders, or behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia, and (3) were either a randomized, placebo-controlled trial or a randomized trial comparing a BZD with either another psychotropic medication or psychotherapy.
Thirty-one studies met the inclusion criteria. Of the three clinical indications evaluated, treatment of insomnia had the greatest available evidence for use of BZDs among older adults, with 21 of 25 trials demonstrating improved sleep outcomes with use of BZDs. Only one trial was found to meet eligibility criteria for BZD use in anxiety disorders, demonstrating benefit over placebo. Five studies for use in behavioral disturbances in dementia were included, of which only one demonstrated improvement over placebo.
This systematic review suggests that BZD prescribing to older adults is significantly in excess of what the available evidence suggests is appropriate. Future trials should focus on efforts to reduce both acute and chronic BZD use among older adults while improving access to effective non-pharmacologic treatment alternatives.