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Study warns elderly drivers about the dangers of Rx sleep aids

One of the single hardest things for millions of Americans to do is secure anywhere from seven to eight hours of solid sleep. While this inability to sleep can often be attributed to external factors like crying children, snoring spouses or barking dogs, it can more often be traced to simple insomnia.

Indeed, for many people the only real way to overcome this insomnia is through the use of a prescription sleep aid. While this is certainly understandable, it's important for those who use these medications to understand and appreciate that they can present certain risks -- particularly when it comes to driving.

If you don't believe it, consider a recent study by researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, which sought to determine whether there was any evidence of an increased accident risk among elderly drivers who took the popular prescription sleep aid zolpidem, otherwise known as Ambien.

Here, the researchers examined the five-year driving histories of 2,000 state residents age 70 and up, essentially comparing the accident records of those who took zolpidem and those who did not.

Here, they discovered that drivers over the age of 80 who used zolpidem had a crash risk that was more than two times higher than their drug-free counterparts, and that women who used zolpidem had a crash risk that over 61 percent higher than their drug-free counterparts.

While the researchers stopped short of demonstrating a cause-and-effect relationship, the discovery of even this association caused them considerable concern.  

In fact, they even recommended that those elderly people who use zolpidem or other prescription sleep aids, and still get behind the wheel regularly should consider discussing possible alternatives with their physician, including meditation and other relaxation techniques. At the very least, they argued that these seniors could discuss the danger of driving too soon after taking their prescription sleep aids given that their effects can linger well into the next day.

If you've been seriously injured in a car accident caused by distracted driving, drowsy driving or any other type of reckless conduct, please don't hesitate to consider speaking with an experienced legal professional as soon as possible.

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