Drug use among the very old living in ordinary households. Aspects on well-being, cognitive and functional ability


Background: In Sweden today a major proportion of the population survive to old ages. To a large extent, the oldest old are capable of living longer in their own households; some of them are very healthy while others have multiple diagnoses or ailments caused by a normal ageing process. This means that many elderly persons receive their health care needs in their own home, and in the future this will be even more common. Drug use of the elderly is a complex field, and many drugs have side effects complicating the medical treatment and decreasing the quality of life.

Aim: This thesis aims to explore and describe the medicine use and the medical situation of very old persons (¡Ý84 years) living in ordinary households, and to obtain knowledge of their views on the use of drugs.

Methods: This thesis combines quantitative and qualitative research methods. The quantitative studies (Study I, II and III) were based on data from the Kungsholmen Project, a population based study of elderly people living in a district of the inner city of Stockholm, Sweden. Data collection of the present studies was carried out from the third follow-up 1997-1998. The qualitative data (Study IV) was obtained 2005 through in-depth interviews with 25 elderly men and women, aged 85-97 years, living in ordinary households in Stockholm, Sweden. A pre-tested semi-structured questionnaire was used for the interviews.

Results: The findings in Study I demonstrated that cardiovascular diseases are very frequent in this population (62%). Heart failure (47%) and hypertension (37%) were the most common conditions; and diuretics (69%), nitrates (31%) and cardiac glycosides (30%) were the most commonly prescribed drugs. Multivariate regression analyses showed that while being affected by a CV disease did not affect the emotional well-being of the participants (PANAS-PA, p=0.171; PANAS-NA, p=0.209), the use of cardiac glycosides (p=0.006) and nitrates (p=0.008) was associated with increased negative feelings. Study II revealed that 88% of the population took medicines on a regular basis, and only 23% of them received help with the handling of their medicines. Using logistic regression models controlling for sociodemographic variables, cognitive and functional status, female gender (OR: 2.8; 95% CI: 1.2-6.5) was the only variable associated with regular use of medicines. The results also showed that older age and functional disability as measured by ADL, increased the risk of receiving help with medicines, while higher cognitive status decreased the odds of receiving help. Using multiple regression models, we found that the only factor related to not receiving help from a family member was that of living alone (OR:0.05; 95% CI: 0.006-0.4). Study III showed that the prevalence of pain among very old persons was 46%, and the prevalence of pain treatment was 71%. Results from logistic regression analysis using all variables in the model indicated that pain reporting was not associated with age, gender or living conditions, but decreased with decreasing cognitive status and with increasing functional disability. Furthermore, pain treatment was not associated with age, gender, living conditions, cognitive and functional status. The qualitative data in Study IV indicated that most of the participants managed their medicines by themselves and were very content with this. Those elderly who received help with their medicines were also very pleased with this help. The findings also revealed that the most important components for the elderly to be able to remain living in their homes and to handle their medicines by themselves, were to have good cognitive ability, to be independent and to get support with their medicines from a close person as a back-up.

Conclusions: This study revealed that a large proportion of very old people (¡Ý84 years) were living in ordinary households and used medicines regularly. Being a woman and living alone were associated with receiving help with medicines from the community help services. Cognitive and functional ability were revealed to be significant factors in the management of medicines, but also to affect the pain reporting, and type of received pain treatment. Most of the older participants managed to handle their medicines by themselves, and were very pleased by doing this. However, most of them were concerned about the risk of losing their memory, as they are getting older, because they knew that they would not be able to manage themselves any more and therefore would have to move to an institution.

ISBN: 91-7140-979-3

© Margareta Westerbotn, 2007