Polypharmacy is common among older adults. However, little is known about the composition of polypharmacy: which are the most frequently used drugs, and how much do these drugs contribute to the overall prevalence of polypharmacy.
A total of 822,619 Swedes aged =75 years was identified from the Total Population Register. Through record-linkage with the Swedish Prescribed Drug Register and the Social Services Register we could analyze concurrent drug use in the entire population (both individuals living in the community and institution) on the 31 December 2013.
The prevalence of polypharmacy (=5 drugs) was 45%. The most frequently used drugs were cardiovascular drugs, analgesics, and psychotropics. By excluding the ten most frequently used drug classes or compounds, the prevalence of polypharmacy was reduced by 69% and 51% respectively. The majority of the users of either one of the 10 most frequently used drugs concurrently used at least 4 other drug classes (66%-85%).
Almost half of the individuals aged =75 years are exposed to polypharmacy in Sweden. A handful of drugs make a large contribution to the overall prevalence of polypharmacy and the majority of drugs prescribed to persons aged =75 years are used in combination with other drugs. This highlights the high use of drugs, and the need to consider other concurrent drug treatments when prescribing for older adults.