It is not clear why older adults have a higher rate of car accidents. Some speculate that vision loss or slowed reaction time plays a role. But a recent Canadian study suggests that a class of long-lasting prescription medications also may contribute to these accidents.
After studying records of nearly 225,000 people ages 67 to 84, researchers at McGill University in Montreal found a 45 percent increase in injury-causing car accidents in people who had been taking a long-acting group of benzodiazepines. These drugs often are prescribed to treat anxiety or insomnia. The medications associated with higher accident rates are the long-lasting ones, which can stay in the bloodstream for more than 24 hours.
The drugs associated with the higher accident rates include many popular medications, such as:
- Clonazepam (Klonopin)
- Diazepam (Valium)
- Clorazepate (Tranxene)
- Chlordiazepoxide (Libratabs)
- Flurazepam (Dalmane)
Other benzodiazepines are not as long-lasting. Shorter-acting drugs in this group include:
- Alprazolam (Xanax)
- Lorazepam (Ativan)
- Triazolam (Halcion)
Keep in mind, though, that the shorter-acting drugs also can impair driving and other skills. These medications have their strongest effects in the first hours after you take them.
If you are an older adult taking long-lasting benzodiazepines for insomnia or anxiety, talk with your health care provider. You may want to switch to another medication that is not linked to a higher risk for accidents.
However, do not stop taking medication without talking to your doctor first. Stopping these drugs suddenly can lead to seizures or severe anxiety attacks in some cases.