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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Self-medication with over-the-counter drugs and complementary medications in South Australia's elderly population

Lynn Yeen Goh1, Agnes I Vitry1*, Susan J Semple1, Adrian Esterman2 and Mary A Luszcz3

Author Affiliations

1 Sansom Institute, University of South Australia, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

2 School of Nursing and Midwifery, University of South Australia, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

3 School of Psychology and Flinders Center for Aging Studies, Flinders University, South Australia, Australia

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BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2009, 9:42  doi:10.1186/1472-6882-9-42

Published: 11 November 2009

Abstract

Background

A number of surveys have examined use of complementary and alternative medicines (CAM) in Australia. However, there are limited Australian data on use of CAM and over-the-counter (OTC) medicines in the elderly population. The main aims of this study were to examine self-medication practices with CAM and OTC medicines among older Australians and variables associated with their use.

Methods

The Australian Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ALSA) is an ongoing multidisciplinary prospective study of the older population which commenced in 1992 in South Australia. Data collected in 4 waves of ALSA between 1992 and 2004 were used in this study with a baseline sample of 2087 adults aged 65 years and over, living in the community or residential aged care. OTC medicines were classified according to the World Health Organization Anatomical Therapeutic Chemical (ATC) classification. CAM were classified according a modified version of the classification adopted by the Therapeutics Goods Administration (TGA) in Australia.

Results

The prevalence of CAM or OTC use ranged from 17.7% in 2000-2001 to 35.5% in 2003-2004. The top classes of CAM and OTC medicines used remained relatively constant over the study period. The most frequent classes of CAM used were vitamins and minerals, herbal medicines and nutritional supplements while the most commonly used OTC were analgesics, laxatives and low dose aspirin. Females and those of younger age were more likely to be CAM users but no variable was associated with OTC use.

Conclusion

Participants seemed to self-medicate in accordance with approved indications, suggesting they were informed consumers, actively looking after their own health. However, use of analgesics and aspirin are associated with an increased risk of adverse drug events in the elderly. Future work should examine how self-medication contributes to polypharmacy and increases the risk of adverse drug reactions.