Polypharmacy in nursing home residents in the United States: results of the 2004 National Nursing Home Survey

Am J Geriatr Pharmacother. 2010 Feb;8(1):63-72. doi: 10.1016/j.amjopharm.2010.01.001.


Background: Despite the need for and benefits of medications, polypharmacy (defined here as concurrent use of > or =9 medications) in nursing home residents is a concern. As the number of medications taken increases, so does the risk for adverse events. Monitoring polypharmacy in this population is important and can improve the quality of nursing home care.

Objectives: The aims of this article were to estimate the use of polypharmacy in residents of nursing homes in the United States, to examine the associations between select resident and facility characteristics and polypharmacy, and to determine the leading therapeutic subclasses included in the polypharmacy received by these nursing home residents.

Methods: This was a retrospective, cross-sectional study of a nationally representative sample of US nursing home residents in 2004; the outcome was use of polypharmacy. The 2004 National Nursing Home Survey was used to collect medication data and other resident and facility information. Resident characteristics included age, sex, race, primary payment source, number of comorbidities, number of activities of daily living (ADLs) for which the resident required assistance, and length of stay (LOS) since admission. Facility characteristics included ownership and size (number of beds).

Results: Of 13,507 nursing home residents who received care, 13,403 had valid responses for all 9 independent variables in the analyses. The prevalence of polypharmacy among nursing home residents in 2004 was approximately 40%. A multiple regression model controlling for resident and facility factors revealed that the odds of receiving polypharmacy were higher for residents who were female (odds ratio [OR] = 1.10; 95% CI, 1.00-1.20), were white, had Medicaid as a primary payer, had >3 comorbidities (OR = 1.57-5.18; 95% CI, 1.36-6.15), needed assistance with < or =4 ADLs, had an LOS since admission of 3 to <6 months (OR = 1.25; 95% CI, 1.04-1.50), and received care in a small, not- for-profit facility (data not shown for reference levels [OR = 1.00]). The most frequently reported medications for residents who received polypharmacy included gastrointestinal agents (laxatives, 47.5%; agents for acid/peptic disorders, 43.3%), drugs that affect the central nervous system (antidepressants, 46.3%; antipsychotics or antimanics, 25.9%), and pain relievers (nonnarcotic analgesics, 43.6%; antipyretics, 41.2%; antiarthritics, 31.2%).

Conclusions: Despite awareness of polypharmacy and its potential consequences in older patients, results of our analysis suggest that polypharmacy remains widespread in US nursing homes. Although complex medication regimens are often necessary for nursing home residents, monitoring polypharmacy and its consequences may improve the quality of nursing home care and reduce unnecessary health care spending related to adverse events.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Health Care Surveys* / methods
  • Health Care Surveys* / trends
  • Homes for the Aged / standards*
  • Homes for the Aged / statistics & numerical data
  • Homes for the Aged / trends*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nursing Homes / standards*
  • Nursing Homes / statistics & numerical data
  • Nursing Homes / trends*
  • Polypharmacy*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • United States / epidemiology