A range of behavioural, educational and provider-focused strategies have been tested, individually or in combination, for improving medication adherence. The results of various interventions in different patient groups, including the elderly, have been subjected to systematic reviews and meta-analyses, but because most studies have focused on improving adherence to one drug or drug group, they may have limited applicability to the general elderly population who more commonly use multiple medications for multiple co-morbidities.A systematic review of controlled studies aimed at improving adherence in community-living elderly patients prescribed at least three, or a mean/median of four or more, long-term medications was undertaken. Only studies which included a minimum of 60 patients in each group, followed patients for >or=4 weeks after intervention, and measured adherence to all medications at baseline and at the conclusion of the study were considered for inclusion in the review. Eight studies met the inclusion criteria. All eight studies used verbal and/or written medication information in combination with behavioural strategies with or without provider-focused strategies. Pharmaceutical care was the theoretical framework of the interventions used in the majority of the studies. Only four studies demonstrated a significant improvement in adherence as a result of the interventions. The relative change in adherence in the intervention groups was highly variable, ranging from -13% to +55.5% (mean +11.4%). Regular scheduled patient follow-up along with a multi-compartment dose administration aid was an effective strategy for maintaining adherence in one study, while group education combined with individualized medication cards was successful in another study. Medication review by pharmacists with a focus on regimen simplification was found to be effective in two studies.Overall, as a result of inconsistent methodology and findings across the eight studies, we were unable to draw firm conclusions in favour of any particular intervention. Innovative strategies for enhancing medication adherence in the elderly and reliable measures of adherence are needed. Until further evidence from single-intervention strategies becomes available, combinations of educational and behavioural strategies should be used to improve medication adherence in the elderly.