Inappropriate medication use among the elderly: a systematic review of administrative databases

BMC Geriatr. 2011 Nov 30:11:79. doi: 10.1186/1471-2318-11-79.


Background: Inappropriate medication use (IMU) by elderly people is a public health problem associated with adverse effects on health. There are a number of methods for identifying IMU, some involving clinical judgment and others, consensually generated lists of drugs to be avoided. This review aims to describe studies that used information from insurance company and social security administrative databases to assess IMU among community-dwelling elderly and to present the risk factors most often associated with IMU.

Methods: The paper search was conducted in Medline and Embase, using descriptors combined with free terms in the title or abstract. The limits applied were: publication date from January 1990 to June 2010, species (human) and publication type (excluding editorials, letters and reviews). Excluded were: case studies; studies in hospitals, nursing homes, or hospital emergency departments; studies of specific drugs or groups of drugs; studies exclusively of subgroups of ill, frail elderly or rural populations. Additional studies were identified from reference lists. Data were selected and extracted after independent reading by two of the authors, with disagreements resolved by a third author. The primary outcome assessed was prevalence of IMU, defined as the proportion of elderly who received at least one inappropriate medication.

Results: Of the 628 studies, 19 met the inclusion criteria, 78.9% of them conducted in the USA. All papers included used explicit criteria of inappropriateness, most commonly Beers criteria (73.7%) in their three versions (1991, 1997 and 2002). Other methods used included Zhan, which is derived from on Beers criteria and was applied in 21% of the papers selected. The study found that prevalence of IMU ranged from 11.5% to 62.5%. Only 68.4% of the studies included examined inappropriate use-related factors, the most important being female sex, advanced age and larger number of drugs.

Conclusions: The results show that the prevalence of IMU among community-dwelling elderly is high and depends partly on the method used to evaluate improper use. Besides the diversity of methods, other factors, such as patient sex, age and number of drugs used concurrently, appear to have influenced the estimates of IMU.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Cohort Studies
  • Databases, Factual
  • Humans
  • Inappropriate Prescribing* / statistics & numerical data
  • Medication Adherence* / statistics & numerical data
  • Middle Aged
  • Risk Factors