The use of benzodiazepines in patients with Alzheimer’s disease was associated with a higher risk of pneumonia, a study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) reported.

There is a lack of data regarding the use of benzodiazepines and similarly acting non-benzodiazepines and the risk of pneumonia among older adults. Study authors from the University of Eastern Finland aimed to assess this risk among older community-dwelling adults with Alzheimer’s disease, “a condition in which both sedative/hypnotic use and pneumonia are common,” explained Heidi Taipale, PhD, PharmD. 

Study authors compiled data on community-dwelling adults who were recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in Finland between 2005–2011 from the Medication use and Alzheimer disease (MEDALZ) cohort. Patients who used benzodiazepines and similar non-benzodiazepines were identified using a 1-year washout period and were matched with non-users. The likelihood of hospitalization or death due to pneumonia was evaluated and adjusted for use of other psychotropic drugs.  

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Of the total 49,484 patients with Alzheimer’s disease, 5,232 benzodiazepine users and 3,269 non-benzodiazepine users were matched with non-users. The data indicated a increased risk of pneumonia (adjusted hazard ratio [aHR] 1.22, 95% CI: 1.05–1.42) with use of both benzodiazepines and similar non-benzodiazepines. A separately analysis found that the use of benzodiazepines was significantly associated with an increased risk of pneumonia (aHR 1.28, 95% CI: 1.07–1.54) but not for the similarly acting non-benzodiazepines (aHR 1.10, 95% CI: 0.84–1.44). 

Specifically, the risk of pneumonia was highest within the first 30 days of benzodiazepine use (HR 2.09, 95% CI: 1.26–3.48). 

“Risk of pneumonia should be considered when weighing the benefits and risks of benzodiazepines in this population,” concluded Dr. Taipale.

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