Evidence-based strategies for the optimization of pharmacotherapy in older people

Drugs Aging. 2012 Jun 1;29(6):477-94. doi: 10.2165/11632400-000000000-00000.


Geriatric pharmacotherapy represents one of the biggest achievements of modern medical interventions. However, geriatric pharmacotherapy is a complex process that encompasses not only drug prescribing but also age-appropriate drug development and manufacturing, appropriate drug testing in clinical trials, rational and safe prescribing, reliable administration and assessment of drug effects, including adherence measurement and age-appropriate outcomes monitoring. During this complex process, errors can occur at any stage, and intervention strategies to improve geriatric pharmacotherapy are targeted at improving the regulatory processes of drug testing, reducing inappropriate prescribing, preventing beneficial drug underuse and use of potentially harmful drugs, and preventing adverse drug interactions. The aim of this review is to provide an update on selected recent developments in geriatric pharmacotherapy, including age discrimination in drug trials, a new healthcare professional qualification and shared competence in geriatric drug therapy, the usefulness of information and communication technologies, and pharmacogenetics. We also review optimizing strategies aimed at medication adherence focusing on complex elderly patients. Among the current information technologies, there is sufficient evidence that computerized decision-making support systems are modestly but significantly effective in reducing inappropriate prescribing and adverse drug events across healthcare settings. The majority of interventions target physicians, for whom the scientific concept of appropriate prescribing and the acceptability of the alert system used play crucial roles in the intervention's success. For prescribing optimization, results of educational intervention strategies were inconsistent. The more promising strategies involved pharmacists or multidisciplinary teams including geriatric medicine services. However, methodological weaknesses including population and intervention heterogeneity do not allow for comprehensive meta-analyses to determine the clinical value of individual approaches. In relation to drug adherence, a recent meta-analysis of 33 randomized clinical trials in older patients found behavioural interventions had significant effects, and these interventions were more effective than educational interventions. For patients with multiple conditions and polypharmacy, successful interventions included structured medication review, medication regimen simplification, administration aids and medication reminders, but no firm conclusion in favour of any particular intervention could be made. Interventions to optimize geriatric pharmacotherapy focused most commonly on pharmacological outcomes (drug appropriateness, adverse drug events, adherence), providing only limited information about clinical outcomes in terms of health status, morbidity, functionality and overall healthcare costs. Little attention was given to psychosocial and behavioural aspects of pharmacotherapy. There is sufficient potential for improvements in geriatric pharmacotherapy in terms of drug safety and effectiveness. However, just as we require evidence-based, age-specific, pharmacological information for efficient clinical decision making, we need solid evidence for strategies that consistently improve the quality of pharmacological treatments at the health system level to shape 'age-attuned' health and drug policy.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Drug Prescriptions / statistics & numerical data
  • Drug Therapy / methods*
  • Drug Therapy / standards
  • Drug Therapy / statistics & numerical data
  • Drug-Related Side Effects and Adverse Reactions
  • Evidence-Based Medicine / methods*
  • Evidence-Based Medicine / standards
  • Geriatrics / methods*
  • Geriatrics / standards
  • Geriatrics / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Medication Adherence / statistics & numerical data
  • Self Medication / statistics & numerical data