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Patient Educ Couns. 2005 Nov;59(2):186-91. Epub 2005 Jan 26.

Can elderly people take their medicine?

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Aging Research Center, Karolinska Institute, Stockholm University, Box 6401, 113 82 Stockholm, Sweden.


This study used performance tests to assess the cognitive, visual and physical abilities related to taking medicines in the elderly population. The study population consisted of the Swedish Panel Study of Living Conditions of the Oldest Old (SWEOLD II), a nationally representative interview survey. SWEOLD II is a random sample of all community-based and institutionalized persons aged 77+ in Sweden. Five tests related to medication management were administered in the direct interviews (n=492): hand function (opening bottle), vision (reading label), and medication competence (comprehension and calculation). Results showed that 9.4% could not read instructions on a medicine container and 14.6% had difficulty opening a plastic flip-top medicine bottle. The three cognitive tests related to taking medicine resulted in 30.7, 47.4 and 20.1% errors. Combining all the tests revealed that 66.3% of the sample had at least one limitation of capacity related to taking medicine. There were no significant gender differences. Among those people who did not pass all the tests, 31.8% lived alone with no home-help. Taking medicines is a complex task and a large proportion of the Swedish elderly population has cognitive, visual or physical limitations that may hinder their ability to take medicines accurately. Awareness of these limitations is essential to concordance.

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