Much more medicine for the oldest old: trends in UK electronic clinical records

Age Ageing. 2015 Jan;44(1):46-53. doi: 10.1093/ageing/afu113. Epub 2014 Aug 7.


Background: the oldest old (85+) pose complex medical challenges. Both underdiagnosis and overdiagnosis are claimed in this group.

Objective: to estimate diagnosis, prescribing and hospital admission prevalence from 2003/4 to 2011/12, to monitor trends in medicalisation.

Design and setting: observational study of Clinical Practice Research Datalink (CPRD) electronic medical records from general practice populations (eligible; n = 27,109) with oversampling of the oldest old.

Methods: we identified 18 common diseases and five geriatric syndromes (dizziness, incontinence, skin ulcers, falls and fractures) from Read codes. We counted medications prescribed ≥1 time in all quarters of studied years.

Results: there were major increases in recorded prevalence of most conditions in the 85+ group, especially chronic kidney disease (stages 3-5: prevalence <1% rising to 36.4%). The proportions of the 85+ group with ≥3 conditions rose from 32.2 to 55.1% (27.1 to 35.1% in the 65-84 year group). Geriatric syndrome trends were less marked. In the 85+ age group the proportion receiving no chronically prescribed medications fell from 29.6 to 13.6%, while the proportion on ≥3 rose from 44.6 to 66.2%. The proportion of 85+ year olds with ≥1 hospital admissions per year rose from 27.6 to 35.4%.

Conclusions: there has been a dramatic increase in the medicalisation of the oldest old, evident in increased diagnosis (likely partly due to better record keeping) but also increased prescribing and hospitalisation. Diagnostic trends especially for chronic kidney disease may raise concerns about overdiagnosis. These findings provide new urgency to questions about the appropriateness of multiple diagnostic labelling.

Keywords: admission; kidney; older people; oldest; prescribing; prevalence.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging
  • Diagnostic Tests, Routine / trends
  • Drug Prescriptions
  • Electronic Health Records / trends*
  • Female
  • Geriatrics / trends*
  • Health Resources / statistics & numerical data
  • Health Resources / trends*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Patient Admission / trends
  • Polypharmacy
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians' / trends*
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Prevalence
  • Renal Insufficiency, Chronic / diagnosis
  • Renal Insufficiency, Chronic / epidemiology
  • Renal Insufficiency, Chronic / therapy
  • Time Factors
  • United Kingdom