Regular use of pain, sleep prescriptions significantly increases frailty risk

Matthias Zomer/Pexels

Self-reported regular use of prescriptions for pain or sleep increases frailty risk in older adults by 95 percent, according to a new study by the Oregon Research Institute and Florida Atlantic University, and published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

Frailty consists of deficits in a variety of functional measures, and is a reliable predictor of loss of independence, increased use of healthcare resources, and mortality. The possible implications of current research findings are especially serious given that it is common for older Americans to use two or more prescription drugs at the same time and many of these prescription drugs are for pain and sleep, including analgesics and sedatives.

The study estimates long-term frailty risks and ranks the long-term risks of two classes of prescription drugs. Researchers found over eight years of follow-up, those who self-reported regular use of prescription drugs for pain and sleep had a 95 percent increased risk of frailty compared to those who did not report regular use of these drugs. For regular prescription drug use for pain only or for sleep only, the increased risks were 58 percent and 35 percent, respectively.

Researchers led by co-authors Gulcan Cil, PhD, and Juyoung Park, PhD, analyzed data from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS), a nationally representative longitudinal cohort of older Americans. For their analysis, they selected a large cohort of about 7,200 community-living non-frail older adults with a median age of 70 years old. Analyses were adjusted for demographics and other drug use.

The HRS dataset used by the researchers is sponsored by the National Institute on Aging (NIA) of the National Institutes of Health and the Social Security Administration (SSA) and is conducted by the University of Michigan. RAND HRS data products used in this study are produced by RAND Center for the Study of Aging with funding from the NIA and SSA.

"Our study shows that regular self-reported use and [continued] use of prescription drugs for pain and for sleep are significantly associated with increased incidence of frailty," said Bergen in a statement. "We recommend further research to estimate the frailty risk of pain and sleep measures and of prescription pain and sleep drugs."