Introduction: Polypharmacy, defined as the use of multiple drugs or more than are medically necessary, is a growing concern for older adults. MEDLINE and EMBASE databases were searched from January 1, 1986 to June 30, 2013) to identify relevant articles in people aged > 65 years.
Areas covered: We present information about: i) prevalence of polypharmacy and unnecessary medication use; ii) negative consequences of polypharmacy; and iii) interventions to improve polypharmacy.
Expert opinion: International research shows that polypharmacy is common in older adults with the highest number of drugs taken by those residing in nursing homes. Nearly 50% of older adults take one or more medications that are not medically necessary. Research has clearly established a strong relationship between polypharmacy and negative clinical consequences. Moreover, well-designed interprofessional (often including clinical pharmacist) intervention studies that focus on enrolling high-risk older patients with polypharmacy have shown that they can be effective in reducing aspects of unnecessary prescribing with mixed results on distal health outcomes.