Polypharmacy: misleading, but manageable

Clin Interv Aging. 2008;3(2):383-9. doi: 10.2147/cia.s2468.


The percentage of the population described as elderly is growing, and a higher prevalence of multiple, chronic disease states must be managed concurrently. Healthcare practitioners must appropriately use medication for multiple diseases and avoid risks often associated with multiple medication use such as adverse effects, drug/drug interactions, drug/disease interactions, and inappropriate dosing. The purpose of this study is to identify a consensus definition for polypharmacy and evaluate its prevalence among elderly outpatients. The authors also sought to identify or develop a clinical tool which would assist healthcare practitioners guard against inappropriate drug therapy in elderly patients. The most commonly cited definition was a medication not matching a diagnosis. Inappropriate was part of definitions used frequently. Some definitions placed a numeric value on concurrent medications. Two common definitions (ie, 6 or more medications or a potentially inappropriate medication) were used to evaluate polypharmacy in elderly South Carolinians (n = 1027). Data analysis demonstrates that a significant percentage of this population is prescribed six or more concomitant drugs and/or uses a potentially inappropriate medication. The findings are 29.4% are prescribed 6 or more concurrent drugs, 15.7% are prescribed one or more potentially inappropriate drugs, and 9.3% meet both definitions of polypharmacy used in this study. The authors recommend use of less ambiguous terminology such as hyperpharmacotherapy or multiple medication use. A structured approach to identify and manage inappropriate polypharmacy is suggested and a clinical tool is provided.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Geriatric Assessment
  • Health Surveys*
  • Humans
  • Medical Audit
  • Polypharmacy*