Falls are a serious problem in hospitals and nursing homes. According to a study conducted by the Mayo Clinic, a drug commonly given to inpatients in American hospitals increases the risk of falling by 400 percent. The drug zolpidem is commonly used in many hospitals to help patients sleep. The study showed that, among patients who received the drug, 3 percent suffered a fall during their hospital stay. Only 0.7 percent of inpatients who were not given the drug fell during that same time period.
Many factors contribute to the likelihood of suffering a fall during a hospital stay. Age, cognitive function, insomnia and delirium have all been cited as contributing to the risk of falling. According to this study, zolpidem posed more of a risk than any of these factors in causing a patient to fall. As a result of this discovery, the Mayo Clinic plans to phase out the use of zolpidem. It will replace the drug with other forms of sleep enhancement that do not involve pharmaceuticals.
The Department of Health and Human Services made reducing patient falls one of the goals of the Partnership for Patients project. Despite an increased emphasis on dealing with the problem, reducing falls has proved challenging. Anyone who has ever attempted to sleep in a hospital knows that it is not easy. Unfamiliar surroundings and poor health likely contribute to the risk of falling, but a reliance on sleep drugs may turn out to be the primary culprit.
Hospitals where sleep drugs are regularly prescribed need to consider if the benefits outweigh the increased risks of patient falls. Any patient who is given a sleep aid may need further assistance in ensuring that a fall is not the end result.
Source: EurekAlert, “Inpatient sleeping drug quadrupled fall risk,” 19 November 2012