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Medication use among senior Canadians

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by Pamela L. Ramage-Morin


Based on data from the 1996/1997 (institutional component) and 1998/1999 (household component) National Population Health Survey, seniors were major consumers of prescription medications, over-the-counter (OTC) products, and natural and alternative medicines. Almost all (97%) seniors living in long-term health care institutions were current medication users (medication use in the two days before their interview), as were 76% of those living in private households. Over half (53%) of seniors in institutions and 13% of those in private households used multiple medications (currently taking five or more different medications). Both medication and multiple medication use were associated with morbidity. Medications for the nervous system, the alimentary tract and metabolism, and the cardiovascular system were reported most frequently. Among seniors in institutions, those with Alzheimer's disease were less likely to take multiple medications than were those without this condition.


aging, cross-sectional studies, morbidity, non-prescription drugs, polypharmacy, prescription drugs


Prescription medications, over-the-counter (OTC) products, and natural and alternative medicines are widely used in Canada, especially by seniors. But while medications play an important role in health care and disease management, their use is not without risk. [Full text]

The data

Estimates of seniors’ medication use were based on the latest cycles of the National Population Health Survey (NPHS) that collected information on medication use in the two days before their interview. Detailed documentation on the NPHS can be found on Statistics Canada’s website, and descriptions of the survey design, sample, and interview procedures are available in published reports. [Full text]


Pamela L. Ramage-Morin (613-951-1760, is with the Health Information and Research Division at Statistics Canada, Ottawa, Ontario, K1A 0T6.