Use of prescription drugs in the older adult population—a nationwide pharmacoepidemiological study

  • Line Due ChristensenEmail author
  • Mette Reilev
  • Helle Gybel Juul-Larsen
  • Lillian Mørch Jørgensen
  • Susanne Kaae
  • Ove Andersen
  • Anton Pottegård
  • Janne Petersen
Pharmacoepidemiology and Prescription



Multi-morbidity and polypharmacy are common among older people. It is essential to provide a better understanding of the complexity of prescription drug use among older adults to optimise rational pharmacotherapy. Population-based utilisation data in this age group is limited. Using the Danish nationwide health registries, we aimed to characterise drug use among Danish individuals ≥ 60 years.


This is a descriptive population-based study assessing drug prescription patterns in 2015 in the full Danish population aged ≥ 60 years. The use of specific therapeutic subgroups and chemical subgroups and its dependence on age were described using descriptive statistics. Profiles of drug combination patterns were evaluated using latent class analysis.


We included 1,424,775 residents (median age 70 years, 53% women). Of all the older adults, 89% filled at least one prescription during 2015. The median number of drug groups used was five per person. The most used single drug groups were paracetamol and analogues (34%), statins (33%) and platelet aggregation inhibitors (24%). Eighteen drug profiles with different drug combination patterns were identified. One drug profile with expected use of zero drugs and 11 drug profiles expected to receive more than five different therapeutic subgroup drugs were identified.


The use of drugs is extensive both at the population level and increasing with age at an individual level. Separating the population into different homogenous groups related to drug use resulted in 18 different drug profiles, of which 11 drug profiles received on average more than five different therapeutic subgroup drugs.


Pharmacoepidemiology Drug utilisation Drug profiles Older adults Prescription drugs 



This study is a part of the Optimized Senior Patient Program (Optimed) at the Clinical Research Center, Hvidovre Hospital. We want to thank the Statistics Denmark for providing the data, Mikkel Ankarfeldt for the SAS support, Thomas Kallemose for the R support and Morten Baltzer Houlind for the support with the renal risk drug list.

Compliance with ethical standards

The study was approved by the Scientific Board of Statistics Denmark and the Danish Data Protection Agency (Ref. 00003115). An approval from an ethics committee is not required for registry-based studies in Denmark. No identifiable patient data could be retrieved. The study was conducted by following the Strengthening the Reporting of Observational Studies in Epidemiology (STROBE) recommendations [38].

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.

Supplementary material

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ESM 1 (DOCX 835 kb)
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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Line Due Christensen
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
    Email author
  • Mette Reilev
    • 4
    • 5
  • Helle Gybel Juul-Larsen
    • 1
  • Lillian Mørch Jørgensen
    • 1
  • Susanne Kaae
    • 6
  • Ove Andersen
    • 1
    • 7
    • 8
  • Anton Pottegård
    • 2
    • 5
  • Janne Petersen
    • 1
    • 9
    • 10
  1. 1.Clinical Research CenterCopenhagen University Hospital HvidovreHvidovreDenmark
  2. 2.Hospital PharmacyOdense University HospitalOdenseDenmark
  3. 3.The Capital Region PharmacyCopenhagen University Hospital HvidovreHvidovreDenmark
  4. 4.The Research Unit for General Practice, Department of Public HealthUniversity of Southern DenmarkOdenseDenmark
  5. 5.Clinical Pharmacology and Pharmacy, Department of Public HealthUniversity of Southern DenmarkOdenseDenmark
  6. 6.Section for Social and Clinical Pharmacy, Department of PharmacyUniversity of CopenhagenCopenhagenDenmark
  7. 7.Emergency DepartmentCopenhagen University Hospital HvidoreHvidovreDenmark
  8. 8.Department of Clinical MedicineUniversity of CopenhagenCopenhagenDenmark
  9. 9.Section of Biostatistics, Department of Public HealthUniversity of CopenhagenCopenhagenDenmark
  10. 10.Center for Clinical Research and PreventionCopenhagen University Hospital Bispebjerg and FrederiksbergFrederiksbergDenmark

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