Polypharmacy, common in older people, confers both risk of adverse outcomes and benefits. We assessed the relationship of commonly prescribed medications with anticholinergic and sedative effects to physical and cognitive performance in older individuals. The study population comprised 932 moderately to severely disabled community-resident women aged 65 years or older who were participants in the Women's Health and Aging Study I. A scale based on pharmacodynamic principles was developed and utilized as a measure of drug burden. This was related to measures of physical and cognitive function. After adjusting for demographics and comorbidities, anticholinergic drug burden was independently associated with greater difficulty in four physical function domains with adjusted odds ratios (95% confidence interval (CI)) of 4.9 (2.0-12.0) for balance difficulty; 3.2 (1.5-6.9) for mobility difficulty; 3.6 (1.6-8.0) for slow gait; 4.2 (2.0-8.7) for chair stands difficulty; 2.4 (1.1-5.3) for weak grip strength; 2.7 (1.3-5.4) for upper extremity limitations; 3.4 (1.7-6.9) for difficulty in activities of daily living; and 2.4 (95% CI, 1.1-5.1) for poor performance on the Mini-Mental State Examination. Sedative burden was associated only with impaired grip strength (3.3 (1.5-7.3)) and mobility difficulty (2.4 (1.1-5.3)). The burden of multiple drugs can be quantified by incorporating the recommended dose regimen and the actual dose and frequency of drug taken. Anticholinergic drug burden is strongly associated with limitations in physical and cognitive function. Sedative burden is associated with impaired functioning in more limited domains. The risk associated with exposure of vulnerable older women to drugs with anticholinergic properties, and to a lesser extent those with sedative properties, implies that such drugs should not be used in this patient group without compelling clinical indication.