Longitudinal Investigation of Older Adults' Ability to Self-Manage Complex Drug Regimens

Stacy Cooper Bailey*, Lauren A. Opsasnick, Laura M. Curtis, Alex D. Federman, Julia Y. Benavente, Rachel O'Conor, Michael S. Wolf

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


OBJECTIVES: We sought to investigate older patients' ability to correctly and efficiently dose multidrug regimens over nearly a decade and to explore factors predicting declines in medication self-management. DESIGN: Longitudinal cohort study funded by the National Institute on Aging. SETTING: One academic internal medicine clinic and six community health centers. PARTICIPANTS: Beginning in 2008, 900 English-speaking adults, aged 55 to 74 years, were enrolled in the study, completing a baseline (T1) assessment. To date, 303 participants have completed the same assessment 9 years postbaseline (T4). MEASUREMENTS: At T1, subjects were given a standardized, seven-drug regimen and asked to demonstrate how they would take medicine over 24 hours. The number of dosing errors made and times per day that a participant would take medicine were recorded. Health literacy was measured via the Newest Vital Sign, and cognitive decline was measured by the Mini-Mental State Examination. RESULTS: Participants on average made 2.9 dosing errors (SD = 2.5 dosing errors; range = 0-21 dosing errors) of 21 potential errors at T1 and 5.0 errors (SD = 2.1 errors; range = 1-18 errors; P <.001) at T4. In a multivariate model, limited literacy (β =.69; 95% confidence interval [CI] =.18-1.20; P =.01), meaningful cognitive decline (β = 1.72; 95% CI =.70-2.74; P =.01), number of chronic conditions (β =.21; 95% CI =.07-.34; P =.01), and number of baseline dosing errors (β = −.76; 95% CI = −.85 to −.67; P <.001) were significant, independent predictors of changes in dosing errors. Most patients overcomplicated their daily medication schedule; no sociodemographic characteristics were predictive of poor regimen organization in multivariate models. In a multivariate model, there were no significant predictors of changes in regimen consolidation over time, except regimen consolidation at T1. CONCLUSIONS: Older patients frequently overcomplicated drug regimens and increasingly made more dosing errors over 9 years of follow-up. Patients with limited literacy, cognitive decline, and multimorbidity were at greatest risk for errors. J Am Geriatr Soc 68:569–575, 2020.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)569-575
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of the American Geriatrics Society
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1 2020


  • health literacy
  • medication safety
  • polypharmacy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geriatrics and Gerontology

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