Objectives: To describe the patterns of self-reported medication use, including both prescription and non-prescription drugs, for older people in five areas in England and Wales, and to identify the effects of socio-demographic features on medication use.
Design: A cross-sectional survey on population random samples of people aged 65 and over. The survey is a part of the screening interviews at the first stage of the Medical Research Council Cognitive Function and Ageing Study (MRC CFAS) carried out between 1991 and 1994. The sample was stratified to provide equal numbers in the 65–74 years and 75 years and over age groups.
Setting: Three urban (Newcastle, Nottingham and Oxford) and two rural (Cambridgeshire and Gwynedd) centres. Older people living in both the general community and institutions were included.
Participants: 12489 older people whose medication data were collected among the 13009 participants of the CFAS, of which the participation rate is 80%.
Results: Overall prevalence of medication use was 75% (95% confidence interval 74–76%) for people aged 65–74 and 84% (83–85%) for people aged 75 and over, with a mean number of 2·03 (standard deviation 1·95) and 2·47 (2·02) drugs reported per respondent in each group, respectively. Concurrent use of five or more drugs (polypharmacy) was found in 11% (10–12%) of people in the 65–74 age group and in 15% (14–16%) in the 75 and over age group. People aged 75 and over were more likely to be taking at least one drug than people aged 65–74 (OR=1·69, 1·54–1·85), and women were more likely to be so compared with men (OR=1·43, 1·30–1·56). Centre variation was found but none of the centres consistently showed higher or lower usage of medications across the major drug categories. People living in institutions were more likely to be taking gastrointestinal drugs, central nervous system drugs and experience polypharmacy. The use of respiratory and central nervous system drugs (except hypnotics and anxiolytics) increased in lower social class and decreased in people attending full-time education for 10 years or more. The use of haematology/dietetic drugs (85% of which were vitamin and mineral preparations) decreased in lower social class.
Conclusion: This study provides representative estimates of medication usage among older people in England and Wales and identified associated factors and regional variations for medication use in a category-specific manner. The findings, suggesting the existence of centre variation and the association between type of accommodation, social class and medication use warrant further investigation.