Preventive medication use among persons with limited life expectancy

Prog Palliat Care. 2011 Jan;19(1):15-21. doi: 10.1179/174329111X576698.


Persons with limited life expectancy (LLE) - less than 1 year - are significant consumers of health care, are at increased risk of polypharmacy and adverse drug events, and have dynamic health statuses. Therefore, medication use among this population must be appropriate and regularly evaluated. The objective of this review is to assess the current state of knowledge and clinical practice presented in the literature regarding preventive medication use among persons with LLE. We searched Medline, Embase, and CINAHL using Medical Subject Headings. Broad searches were first conducted using the terms 'terminal care or therapy' or 'advanced disease' and 'polypharmacy' or 'inappropriate medication' or 'preventive medicine', followed by more specific searches using the terms 'statins' or 'anti-hypertensives' or 'bisphosphonates' or 'laxatives' and 'terminal care'. Frameworks to assess appropriate versus inappropriate medications for persons with LLE, and the prevalence of potentially inappropriate medication use among this population, are presented. A considerable proportion of individuals with a known terminal condition continue to take chronic disease preventive medications until death despite questionable benefit. The addition of palliative preventive medications is advised. There is an indication that as death approaches the shift from a curative to palliative goal of care translates into a shift in medication use. This literature review is a first step towards improving medication use and decreasing polypharmacy in persons at the end of life. There is a need to develop consensus criteria to assess appropriate versus inappropriate medication use, specifically for individuals at the end of life.