Open Access Research article

Specialist prescribing of psychotropic drugs to older persons in Sweden - a register-based study of 188 024 older persons

Gunilla Martinsson12*, Ingegerd Fagerberg13, Lena Wiklund-Gustin24 and Christina Lindholm5

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Neurobiology, Care Sciences and Society, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden

2 School of Health, Care and Social Welfare, Mälardalen University, Västerås, Sweden

3 Department of Health Care Sciences, Ersta Sköndal University College, Stockholm, Sweden

4 Faculty of Health and Society, Narvik University College, Narvik, Norway

5 Department of Clinical Neuroscience, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden

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BMC Psychiatry 2012, 12:197  doi:10.1186/1471-244X-12-197

Published: 13 November 2012



The situation for older persons with mental disorders other than dementia disorders has scarcely been studied. The older population is increasing worldwide and along with this increase the prevalence of mental disorders will also rise. The treatment of older persons with mental disorders entails complex challenges, with drugs constituting the major medical treatment. Knowledge of geriatric psychiatry is essential for providing older persons with appropriate treatment and care. This study aimed to evaluate the prescription of drugs for mental disorders to older persons (≥65) in Sweden, focused on the medical specialties of the prescribing physicians.


Data concerning drug treatment for older persons from 2006 to 2008 was gathered from the Swedish Prescribed Drug Register. Mental disorders, defined as affective, psychotic and anxiety disorders (ICD-10 F20-42) were evaluated in order to identify associated drugs. Included was a total of 188 024 older individuals, who collectively filled 2 013 079 prescriptions for the treatment of mental disorders. Descriptive analyses were performed, including frequency distribution and 95% CI. The competence of the prescribers was analyzed by subdividing them into five groups: geriatricians, psychiatrists, general practitioners (GPs), other specialists, and physicians without specialist education.


GPs represented the main prescribers, whereas geriatricians and psychiatrists rarely prescribed drugs to older persons. Benzodiazepines and tricyclic antidepressants were the most commonly prescribed drugs. Women were prescribed drugs from geriatricians and psychiatrists to a greater extent than men.


This study examined the prescription of psychotropic drugs to older persons. Physicians specialized in older persons’ disorders and mental health were rarely the prescribers of these drugs. Contrary to clinical guidelines, benzodiazepines and tricyclic antidepressants were commonly prescribed to older persons, emphasizing the need for continuous examination of pharmaceutical treatment for older persons. The results indicate a future need of more specialists in geriatrics and psychiatry.

Aged; Geriatric; Mental disorders; Older persons; Physicians; Prescribing; Psychiatry; Psychotropic drugs; Register-based