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Association between risk factors for injurious falls and new benzodiazepine prescribing in elderly persons

Gillian Bartlett1*, Michal Abrahamowicz2, Roland Grad1, Marie-Pierre Sylvestre2 and Robyn Tamblyn23

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Family Medicine, McGill University, 515-517 Pine Avenue West, Montreal, Quebec, Canada

2 Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, McGill University, 687 Pine Avenue West, V Building, Montreal, Quebec, Canada

3 Department of Medicine, McGill University, 1140 Pine Avenue West, Montreal, Quebec, Canada

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BMC Family Practice 2009, 10:1  doi:10.1186/1471-2296-10-1

Published: 6 January 2009



Benzodiazepines are frequently prescribed to elderly patients' despite concerns about adverse effects leading to injurious falls. Previous studies have not investigated the extent to which patients with pre-existing risk factors for falls are prescribed benzodiazepines. The objective of this study is to assess if some of the risk factors for falls are associated with new benzodiazepine prescriptions in elderly persons.


Using provincial administrative databases, elderly Quebec residents were screened in 1989 for benzodiazepine use and non-users were followed for up to 5 years. Logistic regression models were used to evaluate potential predictors of new benzodiazepine use among patient baseline characteristics.


In the 252,811 elderly patients who had no benzodiazepine prescription during the baseline year (1989), 174,444 (69%) never filled a benzodiazepine prescription and 78,367 (31%) filled at least one benzodiazepine prescription. In the adjusted analysis, several risk factors for falls were associated with statistically significant increases in the risk of receiving a new benzodiazepine prescription including the number of prescribing physicians seen at baseline (OR: 1.12; 95% CI 1.11–1.13), being female (OR: 1.20; 95% CI 1.18–1.22) or a diagnosis of arthritis (OR: 1.11; 95% CI 1.09–1.14), depression (OR: 1.42; 95% CI 1.35–1.49) or alcohol abuse (OR: 1.24; 95% CI 1.05–1.46). The strongest predictor for starting a benzodiazepine was the use of other medications, particularly anti-depressants (OR: 1.85; 95% CI 1.75–1.95).


Patients with pre-existing conditions that increase the risk of injurious falls are significantly more likely to receive a new prescription for a benzodiazepine. The strength of the association between previous medication use and new benzodiazepine prescriptions highlights an important medication safety issue.