A national census of medicines use: a 24-hour snapshot of Australians aged 50 years and older

Med J Aust. 2012 Jan 16;196(1):50-3. doi: 10.5694/mja11.10698.


Objective: To explore the current use of conventional and complementary medicines in Australians aged ≥ 50 years.

Design, setting and participants: Cross-sectional postal survey sent to a random sample of 4500 Australians aged ≥ 50 years between June 2009 and February 2010.

Main outcome measures: Prevalence of medicines use, reasons for medicines use and sources of medicines.

Results: Response rate was 37.3%. Medicines use was very common; 87.1% of participants took one or more medicines and 43.3% took five or more in the previous 24 hours. Complementary medicines were used by 46.3% of participants, 87.4% of whom used both conventional and complementary medicines. The most commonly used medicines were antihypertensive agents (43.2% of participants), natural marine and animal products including fish oil and glucosamine (32.4%) and lipid-lowering agents (30.4%). Doctors recommended 79.3% of all medicines and 93.0% of conventional medicines. Pharmacists commonly recommended occasional medicines (ie, as needed), while friends, family and media most often influenced use of complementary medicines.

Conclusions: The use of multiple medicines is common and higher than reported in the 1995 National Health Survey. Today, much medicines use is to prevent future disease by influencing risk factors. High levels of polypharmacy highlight the need to support the safe and effective use of medicines in the community. Although doctors recommend or prescribe most medicines, self-directed medication use is common. This highlights the need for consumer access to accurate information and strategies to improve health literacy about medicines.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Age Distribution
  • Aged
  • Australia
  • Censuses*
  • Complementary Therapies / methods
  • Complementary Therapies / statistics & numerical data*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Health Surveys / methods*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations / administration & dosage*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Time Factors


  • Pharmaceutical Preparations