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Polypharmacy among older Australians

January 25, 2021
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Objective: To estimate the prevalence of polypharmacy among Australians aged 70 years or more, 2006–2017.

Design, setting and participants: Analysis of a random 10% sample of Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) data for people aged 70 or more who were dispensed PBS‐listed medicines between 1 January 2006 and 31 December 2017.

Main outcome measures: Prevalence of continuous polypharmacy (five or more unique medicines dispensed during both 1 April – 30 June and 1 October – 31 December during a calendar year) among older Australians, and therefore the estimated number of individuals affected in 2017; changes in prevalence of continuous polypharmacy among older concessional beneficiaries, 2006–2017.

Results: In 2017, 36.1% of older Australians were suffering from continuous polypharmacy, or an estimated 935 240 people. Rates of polypharmacy were higher among women than men (36.6% v 35.4%) and were highest among those aged 80–84 years (43.9%) or 85–89 years (46.0%). The prevalence of polypharmacy among PBS concessional beneficiaries aged 70 or more increased by 9% during 2006–2017 (from 33.2% to 36.2%), but the amount of individuals affected increased by 52% (from 543 950 to 828 950).

Conclusions: The prevalence of polypharmacy among older Australians is comparatively high, affecting almost a million older people, and therefore the number is increasing because the population ages. Our estimates are probably low, as we couldn’t take over‐the‐counter or complementary medicines or private prescriptions under consideration . Polypharmacy are often appropriate, but there’s substantial evidence for its potential harm and therefore the importance of rationalizing unnecessary medicines, particularly in older people.

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