Covert administration of medication to older adults: a review of the literature and published studies

J Psychiatr Ment Health Nurs. 2010 Nov;17(9):761-8. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2850.2010.01613.x.


The aim of the study was to review published studies of covert medicines administration in older people, as well as carrying out a broad review of the subject. A review of MEDLINE, EMBASE, PsycINFO, BNI and CINAHL was conducted in order to identify studies providing quantitative or qualitative data on covert administration in older adults. National guidance on covert medication and the ethics and legality of the practice were also reviewed. Data were extracted from eight studies and one inspection report. In addition, one qualitative study was identified. Nine studies included a questionnaire or interview with staff and only one involved non-professional carers. Seven studies were from the UK. Disguising medication in food or drink was reported in 43-71% of nursing homes. In total, 1.5-17% of institutional patients were receiving medication covertly. Despite legislation, incomplete documentation was common and nursing staff alone often made the decision to administer medication covertly. Covert administration appears to be common in older adults with dementia but despite legislation it often takes place without documentation and consultation of all relevant parties. Staff education and training and local audit are needed to improve standards and safeguard vulnerable patients in institutions.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Documentation / standards
  • Drug Therapy / ethics*
  • Guidelines as Topic
  • Humans
  • Informed Consent*
  • Institutionalization
  • Mental Competency
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations / administration & dosage*


  • Pharmaceutical Preparations