Use of Prescription and Over-the-counter Medications and Dietary Supplements Among Older Adults in the United States

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Abstract

Context

Despite concerns about drug safety, current information on older adults' use of prescription and over-the-counter medications and dietary supplements is limited.

Objective

To estimate the prevalence and patterns of medication use among older adults (including concurrent use), and potential major drug-drug interactions.

Design, Setting, and Participants

Three thousand five community-residing individuals, aged 57 through 85 years, were drawn from a cross-sectional, nationally representative probability sample of the United States. In-home interviews, including medication logs, were administered between June 2005 and March 2006. Medication use was defined as prescription, over-the-counter, and dietary supplements used “on a regular schedule, like every day or every week.” Concurrent use was defined as the regular use of at least 2 medications.

Main Outcome Measure

Population estimates of the prevalence of medication use, concurrent use, and potential major drug-drug interactions, stratified by age group and gender.

Results

The unweighted survey response rate was 74.8% (weighted response rate, 75.5%). Eighty-one percent (95% confidence interval [CI], 79.4%–83.5%) used at least 1 prescription medication, 42% (95% CI, 39.7%–44.8%) used at least 1 over-the-counter medication, and 49% (95% CI, 46.2%–52.7%) used a dietary supplement. Twenty-nine percent (95% CI, 26.6%–30.6%) used at least 5 prescription medications concurrently; this was highest among men (37.1%; 95% CI, 31.7%–42.4%) and women (36.0%; 95% CI, 30.2%–41.9%) aged 75 to 85 years. Among prescription medication users, concurrent use of over-the-counter medications was 46% (95% CI, 43.4%–49.1%) and concurrent use of dietary supplements was 52% (95% CI, 48.8%–55.5%). Overall, 4% of individuals were potentially at risk of having a major drug-drug interaction; half of these involved the use of nonprescription medications. These regimens were most prevalent among men in the oldest age group (10%; 95% CI, 6.4%–13.7%) and nearly half involved anticoagulants. No contraindicated concurrent drug use was identified.

Conclusions

In this sample of community-dwelling older adults, prescription and nonprescription medications were commonly used together, with nearly 1 in 25 individuals potentially at risk for a major drug-drug interaction.

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