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Two widely-prescribed types of medication could spell trouble for older drivers.

A new study found that when senior drivers are prescribed an antidepressant along with a sedative/hypnotic drug, they face a 23 per cent higher risk of being in a motor vehicle crash.

Benzodiazepines, or sedative/hypnotic drugs that act on the central nervous system, are used to treat insomnia and anxiety – conditions that often accompany depression. They include drugs such as lorazepam and ativan.

The findings, published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, are based on an analysis of almost 160,000 motor vehicle accidents involving senior drivers in Ontario between 2000 and 2007. About five per cent of the seniors were prescribed an antidepressant shortly before the crash.

"It's very common for older patients to be prescribed this combination of medication," said the lead author of the study, Mark Rapoport, a staff psychiatrist at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre and an associate professor at the University of Toronto.

The elevated crash risk, which was associated with the use of the newer classes of antidepressants known as SSRIs and SNRIs, seemed to persist for about three months after the patient starts taking the medication.

Because the researchers did not interview the people involved in the accidents, they can't say what exactly caused the crashes. But their review of the data indicates the risk is real.