Prevalence of psychotropic drug use in nursing homes for the aged in Quebec and in the French-speaking area of Switzerland

Int J Geriatr Psychiatry. 2005 Aug;20(8):712-21. doi: 10.1002/gps.1349.


Background: The use of psychotropic drugs is high in institutionalised elderly, which raises the question of its appropriateness. This study aimed to: (1) estimate the use of psychotropics, for each family, in terms of the prevalence and dosage among the elderly in nursing homes in French-speaking Switzerland and Quebec; and (2) assess, for each family of psychotropic drugs and for each care facility, the prevalence of use and departure from average prescription (ratio of observed-to-expected prevalence).

Method: An administrative database was used for this cross-sectional analysis. The sample included 8183 Quebec and 7592 Swiss long-term care residents. Three classes of psychotropics (antipsychotics, antidepressants, hypnotics-anxiolytics) were defined as dichotomous variables. Logistic regressions were conducted to identify residents characteristics associated with the use of each psychotropic type and to compute expected prevalence.

Results: Swiss residents were slightly older and less dependent than Quebec residents. Use of psychotropic drugs was higher in Swiss than in Quebec residents, on the whole as well as for each family of drug. A total of 78.1% of Swiss residents used at least one drug as compared to 66.9% in Quebec. Ninety percent of residents were given less than 7 defined daily doses per week, irrespective of the drug family. According to Beer's criteria, only 4.9% of prescriptions were inadequate. In Quebec and in Switzerland, the prevalence of antidepressant use was associated with the prevalence of hypnotic-anxiolytic use. No ratios of observed-to-expected reached statistical significance.

Interpretation: There was a considerable use of psychotropics in Quebec and Switzerland with, seemingly, no dramatic departure from the average practice. Our data cannot tell if there is a global overuse of psychotropics, but indicated that dosage and medication selection seem adequate. Physicians should critically reassess the necessity of prescribed medications for their patients.

MeSH terms

  • Activities of Daily Living
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Anti-Anxiety Agents / administration & dosage
  • Antidepressive Agents / administration & dosage
  • Antipsychotic Agents / administration & dosage
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Drug Administration Schedule
  • Drug Therapy, Combination
  • Female
  • Homes for the Aged*
  • Humans
  • Hypnotics and Sedatives / administration & dosage
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / drug therapy
  • Movement
  • Nursing Homes*
  • Orientation
  • Psychotropic Drugs / administration & dosage*
  • Quebec
  • Switzerland


  • Anti-Anxiety Agents
  • Antidepressive Agents
  • Antipsychotic Agents
  • Hypnotics and Sedatives
  • Psychotropic Drugs