Drugs & Aging

, Volume 18, Issue 2, pp 143–149

Is It Possible to Reduce Polypharmacy in the Elderly?

A Randomised, Controlled Trial
  • Kaisu H. Pitkala
  • Timo E. Strandberg
  • Reijo S. Tilvis
Original Research Article

DOI: 10.2165/00002512-200118020-00007

Cite this article as:
Pitkala, K.H., Strandberg, T.E. & Tilvis, R.S. Drugs & Aging (2001) 18: 143. doi:10.2165/00002512-200118020-00007



The present trial was originally designed to investigate the effectiveness of comprehensive day hospital care in chronically ill elderly patients. Another aim, reported here, was to investigate to what extent it is possible to reduce polypharmacy and simplify drug regimens during the short term tight control conditions of day hospital care.


All home care patients (n = 174, mean age 77 years) in a rural area, Kirkkonummi-Siuntio, in Finland.

Design and setting

Patients were randomised into 2 groups, one of which was offered a 2-month period of day hospital care. Patients assumed to be noncompliant (because they did not want day hospital care) were also included in order to see the effect of intervention in ‘real-life’. The medications of all participants were reviewed and counted during an in-home assessment by a home nurse. In the intervention group, necessary revisions (dose reduction, discontinuation, possible additions) were performed through the tight monitoring of day hospital care and in co-operation with the patient. The patients were followed up for 10 months after completion of the intervention programme.

Outcome measures

Number of prescribed medications, number of over-the-counter (OTC) drugs, number of doses taken daily by the patients. Assessments were performed at baseline, and after 2, 5 and 12 months.


There were no significant changes in the number of prescribed medications. In patients in day hospital care, the number of doses was reduced significantly (p = 0.02) during the 2-month day hospital period compared with the control group. However, the patients compensated for the reductions by increasing the use of OTC drugs during the day hospital period (p = 0.05). In addition, only 3 months after the trial, the number of drugs had already returned to the baseline level.


In real life it seems to be difficult to reduce polypharmacy in the elderly. Some drug reductions may be achieved with tight control under trial conditions, but when the intervention ceases the number of drugs used soon returns to its earlier level.

Copyright information

© Adis International Limited 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kaisu H. Pitkala
    • 1
  • Timo E. Strandberg
    • 1
  • Reijo S. Tilvis
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Medicine, Geriatric ClinicHelsinki University HospitalHelsinkiFinland
  2. 2.Department of MedicineHelsinki University HospitalFinland