Background: medical practice has changed over the last decades reflecting the ageing population, when multi-morbidity requiring multiple medications is more common.
Objective: describe and quantify self-reported medicine use including both prescription and over the counter medicines in two comparable population-based studies of older people (65+) in England and to assess the nature and scale of polypharmacy.
Methods: data used were from two separate population-based studies; the Cognitive Function Ageing Study I and II. Descriptive analyses were performed to summarise and quantify general medicine use. Negative binomial regression models were fitted to determine factors associated with the number of medicines used.
Results: medication use, including both prescribed medicines and over the counter products has increased dramatically over the last 2 decades. The number of people taking five or more items quadrupled from 12 to 49%, while the proportion of people who did not take any medication has decreased from around 1 in 5 to 1 in 13. Cardiovascular drugs were the most frequently taken medication. Polypharmacy is associated with increases in the number of diagnosed long-term conditions.
Conclusions: comparison between CFAS I and II reveals marked increases in medication usage and polypharmacy in the older population. The influence of healthcare organisation, introduction of new guidelines and technology changes leading to diagnosis of earlier, milder chronic diseases and treatment may be contributing to this changing pattern. Further research is needed to develop practical solutions to optimise medication management in older people, reducing the harming associated with medication.
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