It’s not news that America is overmedicated. But a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that older Americans are overprescribed sedatives and anti-anxiety drugs, which can have grave consequences.
The study was a “retrospective descriptive analysis of benzodiazepine prescriptions,” which are more commonly known as Xanax and Valium, and are typically prescribed as sedatives or anti-anxiety medications. Combing through the 2008 data on more than half of the pharmacies in the United States, the research team found that more than 6 percent of men and 11 percent of women between the ages of 65 and 80 years of age were prescribed benzodiazepines. Roughly one-third of people in this age group used the drugs over long periods of time, which were defined as four or more months.
“These are worrisome patterns, especially for older adults and particularly for women,” Dr. Mark Olfson, lead study author, told Reuters Health. “Benzodiazepines should only be used for short periods of time, yet if we look at the prescribing practices of doctors in the U.S., we see a very different picture.”
This is especially troubling considering that the American Geriatrics Society strongly urges against the use of “benzodiazepines or other sedative-hypnotics in older adults as the first choice for insomnia, agitation or delirium.” They go on to cite other scientific studies that have demonstrated that the risk associated with these drugs more than doubles in relation to “motor vehicle accidents, falls and hip fractures leading to hospitalization and death.”
So, then, what is a better way to treat depression or anxiety in seniors? Art therapy.
Art therapy has been proven to have significant long-term effects on health and illness as we age. A study conducted by the Center on Aging, Health & Humanities at George Washington University found that community-based art programs run by professional artists “point to true health promotion and disease prevention effects…[and] appear to be reducing risk factors that drive the need for long-term care.”
The study looked at older groups of people in three different cities—Washington, DC, San Francisco and New York City—and found that after a year of observation of the community arts program study, there was a boost in the overall health for those that participated. Those who received the art therapy in all three cities also saw a decrease in depression in seniors, a decrease in the use of prescription drugs and even a decline in falls.
According to Barbara Bagan, PhD, ATR-BC, Professor of Expressive Arts Therapy at Ottawa University in Phoenix, AZ, the many benefits of art therapy for seniors includes:
- Helps with relaxation
- Provides a sense of control
- Reduces depression and anxiety
- Boosts social interactions
- Encourages playfulness and a sense of humor
- Improves cognition
- Offers sensory stimulation
- Builds a stronger sense of identity
- Increases self-esteem
- Nurtures spirituality
- Reduces boredom
She also cites several studies in which art therapy was used to help older adults with Alzheimer’s Disease or Parkinson’s Disease, claiming that it can really aid in reducing suffering associated with these diseases.
Whether or not you think you have the ability to tap into your inner artist, it’s best to try and avoid becoming too dependent on sedatives, such as Xanax and Valium, no matter how old you are. Alternative forms of help are always available to those who are suffering from insomnia, anxiety and depression. For a list of resources you can turn to if you don’t want medication, Health.com offers some great advice.
Hilary Young is the Communications Manager for Medical Guardian. She helps to keep baby boomers and their loved ones educated about their health and wellbeing. She is also a regular contributor to the Medical Guardian Blog, the Huffington Post, and BlogHer.com.