Context: Despite concerns about drug safety, current information on older adults' use of prescription and over-the-counter medications and dietary supplements is limited.
Objective: To estimate the prevalence and patterns of medication use among older adults (including concurrent use), and potential major drug-drug interactions.
Design, setting, and participants: Three thousand five community-residing individuals, aged 57 through 85 years, were drawn from a cross-sectional, nationally representative probability sample of the United States. In-home interviews, including medication logs, were administered between June 2005 and March 2006. Medication use was defined as prescription, over-the-counter, and dietary supplements used "on a regular schedule, like every day or every week." Concurrent use was defined as the regular use of at least 2 medications.
Main outcome measure: Population estimates of the prevalence of medication use, concurrent use, and potential major drug-drug interactions, stratified by age group and gender.
Results: The unweighted survey response rate was 74.8% (weighted response rate, 75.5%). Eighty-one percent (95% confidence interval [CI], 79.4%-83.5%) used at least 1 prescription medication, 42% (95% CI, 39.7%-44.8%) used at least 1 over-the-counter medication, and 49% (95% CI, 46.2%-52.7%) used a dietary supplement. Twenty-nine percent (95% CI, 26.6%-30.6%) used at least 5 prescription medications concurrently; this was highest among men (37.1%; 95% CI, 31.7%-42.4%) and women (36.0%; 95% CI, 30.2%-41.9%) aged 75 to 85 years. Among prescription medication users, concurrent use of over-the-counter medications was 46% (95% CI, 43.4%-49.1%) and concurrent use of dietary supplements was 52% (95% CI, 48.8%-55.5%). Overall, 4% of individuals were potentially at risk of having a major drug-drug interaction; half of these involved the use of nonprescription medications. These regimens were most prevalent among men in the oldest age group (10%; 95% CI, 6.4%-13.7%) and nearly half involved anticoagulants. No contraindicated concurrent drug use was identified.
Conclusions: In this sample of community-dwelling older adults, prescription and nonprescription medications were commonly used together, with nearly 1 in 25 individuals potentially at risk for a major drug-drug interaction.