Xanax Side Effects in Elderly

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By Peggy Deland

Xanax (alprazolam) is a prescription-only medication approved by the FDA to treat generalized anxiety and panic disorder. It is also prescribed for treating frequent nightmares and reducing tension caused by quitting smoking. Although people of any age who take Xanax can expect to experience some side effects, certain ones may be more pronounced in the elderly.

Function

Xanax belongs to the class of drugs known as benzodiazepines. The medication works directly on the brain by modifying its response to tension and anxiety. Xanax is a non-selective drug. This means that it may affect other functions in the brain other than simply reducing anxiety, which can lead to a variety of side effects. The majority of side effects caused by the drug are related to thinking and brain function. Some physical side effects also occur, but these are a result of how the brain controls certain body functions.

Effects

The most common side effects associated with Xanax are sleepiness, dizziness, forgetfulness, difficulty waking, blurry vision and loss of interest in sex. Elderly people tend to become more sleepy than younger people when they take Xanax. The elderly are also more likely to experience confusion and difficulty concentrating. Because Xanax tends to cause balance problems, especially in older people, the drug increases the risk of falling and being injured. Sometimes elderly people who take Xanax may appear to have dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, but the symptoms are actually caused by the medication and stop when the drug is discontinued.

Considerations

Xanax should not be taken by people who have narrow-angle glaucoma, because it can worsen the condition. It can also worsen depression, liver or kidney disease and breathing disorders. Xanax may cause interactions with certain medications; talk to your doctor about all drugs and herbal supplements you take. Taking Xanax, especially for a long period of time, can cause dependence to this drug, especially if you have a history of drug or alcohol abuse.

Warning

Taking more Xanax than you are prescribed, or taking it with alcohol, can cause a life-threatening overdose. Accidental overdoses of Xanax are fairly common; this sometimes occurs when a person repeatedly forgets that they have already taken their medication. This is more likely to occur with Xanax and related drugs because the medication itself may cause forgetfulness and confusion. It may be helpful to use a pill organizer marked with the date and time of day to prevent accidentally taking extra pills.

Prevention/Solution

Xanax should only be used by people over 65 years old when absolutely necessary. Most doctors prescribe much lower doses of this drug for elderly people to help prevent serious side effects and injuries caused by balance problems.

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