Medications That Older Adults in Hospice Care in the United States Take, 2007

J Am Geriatr Soc. 2015 Nov;63(11):2282-9. doi: 10.1111/jgs.13795. Epub 2015 Nov 4.


Objectives: To describe medications that older adults in hospice with cancer, dementia, debility, heart disease, and lung disease take during the last week of life.

Design: Retrospective cross-sectional study.

Setting: Nationally representative sample of 695 U.S. hospices in the 2007 National Home and Hospice Care Survey.

Participants: Individuals aged 65 and older with a primary diagnosis of cancer (49%), dementia (12%), debility (14%), heart disease (16%), or lung disease (10%) who received end-of-life care during their last week of life (N = 2,623).

Measurements: Medication data were obtained from hospice staff, who were asked, "What are the names of all the medications and drugs the patient was taking 7 days prior to and on the day of his or her death while in hospice? Please include any standing, routine, or PRN medications."

Results: The unweighted survey response rate was 71%. The average number of medications taken was 10.2. The most common therapeutic classes were analgesics (98%); antiemetic and antivertigo medications (78%); anxiolytics, sedatives, and hypnotics (76%); anticonvulsants (71%); and laxatives (53%). Approximately one-quarter of the individuals took proton pump inhibitors, anticoagulants, and antidepressants, and fewer than 20% took antacids and antibiotics. A smaller percentage of individuals with dementia and debility than of those with cancer took opioid analgesics. Individuals with heart disease were more likely than individuals in the other clinical cohorts to take diuretics, and those with lung disease were more likely than those in the other clinical cohorts to take bronchodilators. A higher percentage of individuals with dementia and with debility than with cancer and lung disease took antidepressants.

Conclusion: People continue to receive disease-focused therapies at the end of life rather than therapies exclusively for palliation of symptoms, suggesting that treatments may vary according to the person's primary diagnosis.

Keywords: cancer; dementia; heart disease; hospice; medications.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Drug Therapy / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Hospice Care*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Medicare / statistics & numerical data
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Terminal Care
  • United States