Pharmacokinetics and drug metabolism in the elderly

Drug Metab Rev. 2009;41(2):67-76. doi: 10.1080/03602530902722679.


Aging involves progressive impairments in the functional reserve of multiple organs, which might also affect drug metabolism and pharmacokinetics. In addition, the elderly population will develop multiple diseases and, consequently, often has to take several drugs. As the hepatic first-pass effect of highly cleared drugs could be reduced (due to decreases in liver mass and perfusion), the bioavailability of some drugs can be increased in the elderly. Significant changes in body composition occur with advancing age. Lipophilic drugs may have an increased volume of distribution (Vd) with a prolonged half-life, and water-soluble drugs tend to have a smaller Vd. In the elderly, hepatic drug clearance of some drugs can be reduced by up to 30% and CYP-mediated phase I reactions are more likely to be impaired than phase II metabolism, which is relatively preserved in the elderly. Concerning the most important CYP3A4 studies with human liver microsomes and clinical studies with the validated probe, midazolam, it is indicated that there are no significant differences in CYP3A4 activity between young and old populations. Finally, renal excretion is decreased (up to 50%) in about two thirds of elderly subjects, but confounding factors such as hypertension and coronary heart disease account also for a decline in kidney function. In conclusion, age-related physiological and pharmacokinetic changes as well as the presence of comorbidity and polypharmacy will complicate drug therapy in the elderly.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged / physiology*
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Area Under Curve
  • Biological Availability
  • Body Composition
  • Cytochrome P-450 CYP3A / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Liver / metabolism
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations / chemistry
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations / metabolism*


  • Pharmaceutical Preparations
  • Cytochrome P-450 CYP3A
  • CYP3A4 protein, human