Intentional and unintentional medication non-adherence in African Americans: Insights from the Jackson Heart Study

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Non-adherence to medications is common and leads to suboptimal outcomes. Non-adherence can be intentional (e.g., deciding to skip dosages) or unintentional (e.g., forgetting), yet few studies have distinguished these reasons. An improved understanding of the reasons for non-adherence could inform the development of effective interventions.

Methods and Results:

We analyzed data from African Americans in the Jackson Heart Study who were prescribed medications for one or more chronic conditions. Participants were grouped by patient-reported adherence with non-adherence categorized as being intentional, unintentional or both. We used modified Poisson regression models to examine the factors associated with types of non-adherence. Of 2933 participants taking medication, 2138 (72.9%) reported non-adherence with 754 (35.3%) reporting only unintentional non-adherence, 263 (12.3%) only intentional non-adherence, and 1121 (52.4%) both. Factors independently associated with intentional non-adherence included female sex and depressive symptoms while factors associated with unintentional non-adherence included younger age and separated relationship status. Unintentional and intentional non-adherence was more common among participants taking anti-arrhythmic and anti-asthmatic medications, respectively. Higher levels of global perceived stress was associated with both types of non-adherence. The adjusted models for intentional and unintentional non-adherence had c-statistics of 0.65 and 0.66, respectively, indicating modest discrimination.


Specific patient factors and individual medication classes were associated with distinct patterns of intentional and unintentional non-adherence, yet the overall modest discrimination of the models suggests contributions from other unmeasured factors. These findings provide a construct for understanding reasons for non-adherence and provide rationale to assess whether personalized interventions can improve adherence.

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