Most seniors take 5 or more drugs; numbers double in long-term care facilities

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Most seniors take 5 or more drugs; numbers double in
long-term care facilities

May 1, 2014—Most seniors in Canada are taking at least 5 drugs—and that number increases dramatically for older seniors and those living in long-term care facilities, according to a new report from the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI).

Drug Use Among Seniors on Public Drug Programs in Canada, 2012 found that nearly two-thirds of seniors (those age 65 and older) are taking 5 or more prescription drugs. Drug use increases with age, with more than 40% of Canadians age 85 and older taking more than 10 drugs. Additionally, seniors living in long-term care facilities take more medications than those who are living in the community; nearly two-thirds are taking at least 10 drugs.

“Older seniors tend to have more complex needs, often including multiple chronic conditions,” says Michael Gaucher, director of Pharmaceuticals and Health Workforce Information Services at CIHI. “As their health care needs evolve, it is important to regularly review their medications to ensure they are taking the medications they need, while considering treatment goals and the benefits and risks of each medication.”

Statins, used to treat high cholesterol, are the most commonly used drug class, with almost half of all seniors taking them. Of the 10 most commonly used drug classes, 6 are used to treat cardiovascular conditions.

CIHI data shows that the medications being prescribed for seniors living in long-term care facilities are different from those prescribed for seniors living in the community. Seniors in long-term care are much more likely to be taking psychotropic drugs, which are used to treat a wide range of conditions, including depression, anxiety and insomnia.The rate of antidepressant use among seniors in facilities is 3 times higher than the rate for seniors living in the community, while antipsychotic use is 9 times higher.

“I believe there is room for improvement around the use of antipsychotic drug therapy,” says Dr. Paula Rochon, geriatrician and vice president of Research at Women’s College Hospital in Toronto, as well as a professor in the Department of Medicine and the Institute of Health Policy, Management and Evaluation at the University of Toronto.

“Research has demonstrated variation in the rate of antipsychotic prescribing between facilities, while the residents appear similar,” says Dr. Rochon. “This suggests the opportunity to further explore the use of non-pharmacological approaches.”

The data included in the report covers 70% of seniors in Canada. The last time CIHI looked at the use of prescription drugs by seniors was in 2010.


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