Systematic review of benzodiazepines for anxiety disorders in late life

BACKGROUND: Benzodiazepines are currently the most commonly prescribed medication for the treatment of anxiety in older adults, although there is a dearth of good-quality data on this subject. The aim of this review was to systematically review studies examining the efficacy and tolerability of benzodiazepines for the treatment of anxiety disorders among older adults.

METHODS: The authors conducted a systematic review, searching PubMed, Ovid MEDLINE, Ovid Embase, Web of Science, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, and Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials. All searches were limited to English-language articles. The quality of each study was appraised using criteria developed by the Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine for randomized controlled trials.

RESULTS: A total of 8,785 citations were retrieved and pooled in EndNote and de-duplicated to 3,753. This set was uploaded to Covidence for screening. Two separate screeners (AG and SAF) evaluated the titles, abstracts, and full text of the eligible articles. Five studies met the inclusion criteria. Across all studies, benzodiazepines were associated with decreased anxiety at the end of the study period. The limited tolerability data show mild adverse effects from the benzodiazepines studied. Limitations of the trials included limited data on the long-term use of benzodiazepines for anxiety and a preponderance of trials examining generalized anxiety disorder, with relatively less data on other anxiety disorders.

CONCLUSIONS: Benzodiazepines are effective for treating anxiety disorders in late life, at least in the short term, but more data is needed to establish tolerability and their long-term benefits.

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