Common sedatives associated with pneumonia in Alzheimer’s patients

Created date

May 24th, 2017
Image of a hand holding a bottle of valium medicine

Recent research has shown that sedatives in the benzodiazepine class can increase risk of pneumonia in Alzheimer's disease patients.

A study published recently in the Canadian Medical Association Journal shows that people with Alzheimer’s disease have an increased risk of developing pneumonia if they are taking sedatives in the benzodiazepine class. 

People with dementia-related illnesses often have symptoms such as agitation, sleeplessness, or hostility. Sometimes these symptoms are treated with sedatives such as benzodiazepines. Common examples of these drugs include diazepam (Valium) and alprazolam (Xanax). 

Some risk involved

Researchers in this study examined data from about 50,000 community-dwelling Alzheimer’s disease patients in Finland. They found that patients taking benzodiazepines had a 30% greater risk of developing pneumonia—most often during the first 30 days of treatment. 

These findings reflect other research results, which have found that benzodiazepines increase the risk of pneumonia for people of any age. The researchers speculate that the sedation provided by these drugs increases the likelihood of saliva or food being aspirated into the airway.

Benzodiazepines may be appropriate for some Alzheimer’s disease patients, but the researchers stress that doctors should weigh the risks and benefits before prescribing them.