Benzodiazepine use in the elderly: an indicator for inappropriately treated geriatric depression?

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To measure the prevalence of benzodiazepine (BZD) use and to explore associated demographic and clinical variables of BZD use within a cohort of 75-year- old inhabitants of an urban district of Vienna.


This is a prospective, interdisciplinary cohort study on aging. Our investigation is based on the first consecutive 500 subjects that completed the study protocol. Demographic and clinical characteristics, benzodiazepine and antidepressant use were documented using a standardized questionnaire. Affective status was assessed using the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale (HAMD), the Geriatric Depression Scale (GDS), and the Spielberger State-and Trait Anxiety Inventory subscales (STAI).


Prevalence of BZD use was 13.8%. Compared to non-users, BZD users had significantly higher mean scores at the HAMD (p=0.001), the GDS (p=0.026), and the Spielberger State-and Trait Anxiety Inventory subscales (p=0.003; p=0.001). Depression was found in 12.0% (HAMD) and 17.8% when using a self-rating instrument (GDS). Less than one-third of depressed subjects were receiving antidepressants. Statistically equal numbers were using benzodiazepines.


Inappropriate prescription of BZD is frequent in old age, probably indicating untreated depression in many cases. The implications of maltreated geriatric depression and the risks associated with benzodiazepine use highlight the medical and socioeconomic consequences of inappropriate BZD prescription. Copyright © 2008 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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