Race Differences in the Association Between Sleep Medication Use and Risk of Dementia

Abstract: Background:The effect of sleep medications on cognition in older adults is controversial, possibly dependent upon sleep quality, and may differ by race. Objective:To determine the longitudinal association between sleep medication use and incident dementia over 15 years, and to explore whether the association is independent of nighttime sleep disturbances and if it differs by race.

Methods:We examined 3,068 community-dwelling older adults (aged 74.1±2.9 years, 41.7% Black, 51.5% female) without dementia. Sleep medication use was recorded three times by asking “Do you take sleeping pills or other medications to help you sleep?” with the response options: “Never (0)”, “Rarely (≤1/month)”, “Sometimes (2–4/month)”, “Often (5–15/month)”, or “Almost Always (16–30/month)”. Incident dementia was defined using hospitalization records, dementia medication prescription or clinically significant decline in global cognition.

Results:138 (7.71%) of Whites and 34 (2.66%) of Blacks reported taking sleep medications “often or almost always”. Whites were almost twice as likely to take all prescription hypnotics. 617 participants developed dementia over the follow-up. After adjustment for all covariates, participants who reported taking sleep medications ≥ 5/month versus ≤1/month were significantly more likely to develop dementia, and the association was only observed among Whites (HR = 1.79,1.21–2.66) but not Blacks (HR = 0.84,0.38–1.83); p for interaction = 0.048. Further adjustment for nighttime sleep did not appreciably alter the results. The association was similar for the cumulative frequency of sleep medication use and remained after introducing a time lag of 3 years.

Conclusion:Frequent sleep medication use was associated with an increased risk of dementia in White older adults. Further research is needed to determine underlying mechanisms.