Drugs & Aging

, Volume 31, Issue 3, pp 149–157 | Cite as

Intentional Non-Adherence to Medications by Older Adults

  • Omar MukhtarEmail author
  • John Weinman
  • Stephen H. D. Jackson
Leading Article


‘The extent to which an individual’s medication-taking behaviour and/or execution of lifestyle changes, corresponds with agreed recommendations from a healthcare provider’, is a highly complex behaviour, defined as adherence. However, intentional non-adherence is regularly observed and results in negative outcomes for patients along with increased healthcare provision costs. Whilst this is a consistent issue amongst adults of all ages, the burden of chronic disease is greatest amongst older adults. As a result, the absolute prevalence of intentional non-adherence is increased in this population. This non-systematic review of intentional non-adherence to medication highlights the extent of the problem amongst older adults. It notes that age, per se, is not a contributory factor in intentionally non-adherent behaviours. Moreover, it describes the difference in methodology required to identify such behaviours in contrast to reports of non-adherence in general: the use of focus groups, semi-structured, one-to-one interviews and questionnaires as opposed to pill counts, electronic medication monitors and analysis of prescription refill rates. Using Leventhal’s Common-Sense Model of Self-Regulation, it emphasizes six key factors that may contribute to intentional non-adherence amongst older adults: illness beliefs, the perceived risks (e.g. dependence, adverse effects), benefits and necessity of potential treatments, the patient–practitioner relationship, inter-current physical and mental illnesses, financial constraints and pharmaceutical/pharmacological issues (poly-pharmacy/regimen complexity). It describes the current evidence for each of these aspects and notes the paucity of data validating Leventhal’s model in this regard. It also reports on interventions that may address these issues and explicitly acknowledges the lack of evidence-based interventions available to healthcare practitioners. As a result, it highlights five key areas that require urgent research amongst older adults: (1) the overlap between intentional and unintentional non-adherence, particularly amongst those who may be frail or isolated; (2) the potential correlation between symptomatic benefit and intentional vs. unintentional non-adherence to medication; (3) an evaluation of the source of prescribing (i.e. a long-standing provider vs. an acute episode of care) and the patient–prescriber relationship as determinants of intentional and unintentional non-adherence; (4) the decision-making processes leading to selective intentional non-adherence amongst older adults with multiple medical problems; and (5) the development and evaluation of interventions designed to reduce intentional non-adherence, specifically addressing each of the aspects listed above.


Illness Perception Medication Possession Ratio Illness Belief Weighted Effect Size Practitioner Relationship 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Acknowledgments and conflict of interest statements

All authors were involved in the drafting and revision process. John Weinman is also Head of Health Psychology for Europe at Atlantis Healthcare. In this role, he has given talks, conducted research and overseen the development of patient support programmes for a number of pharmaceutical companies, including Abbot, Abbvie, AstraZeneca, Genzyme, Leo, Novartis, Roche, Servier and SOBI. These activities have in no way influenced the writing of this manuscript, which also poses no conflict of interest for Omar Mukhtar or Stephen H.D. Jackson.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Omar Mukhtar
    • 1
    Email author
  • John Weinman
    • 2
  • Stephen H. D. Jackson
    • 3
  1. 1.Clinical Pharmacology and TherapeuticsKing’s Health Partners, King’s College HospitalLondonUK
  2. 2.Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College LondonLondonUK
  3. 3.Department of Clinical GerontologyKing’s Health PartnersLondonUK

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