Use of Prescription Medications Among Older Adults in New Brunswick
The majority (85.1%) of older adults in New Brunswick had used some form of prescription medication within the 12 months prior to the survey. Use of prescription medication was significantly related to gender (women more likely be prescribed medications) and marital status (more common among widows and widowers).
Men over the age of 55 were significantly less likely than senior women to have taken any prescription medication within the last year (0.62 times as likely).
The older seniors (those aged 75+) were 1.75 times more likely than those in the youngest age group (55- 64) to have used some kind of prescription medication last year.
Use of prescription drugs was significantly higher for seniors who had been previously married. Nearly all widows and widowers reported use in the last year (92.4%).
Widows and widowers and other previously married persons were 2.29 more likely than seniors who have never been married to have taken prescription medication in the past 12 months, after adjusting for other factors.
A very low percentage (1.3% of the older adults, or 1.5% of those using behind-the-counter drugs) felt they were dependent upon any prescription medication, other than for health reasons, within the past year. * However, the response to another question in the survey suggests that the rate may be higher [see below].**
* Q: Other than for health reasons, during the last 12 months have you ever felt that you were dependent on any prescription medication?
A higher proportion (3.8% of seniors, 4.5% of prescription users) indicated that, within the last year, they needed a larger amount of a given prescription medication in order to achieve the same effect. Please note, there are many reasons why a person may need a larger amount of a prescription drug, including the fact that the body adjusts itself to the drug, and physicians are typically advised to start older adults out on lower amounts of the drugs. Drug tolerance and drug dependence are not the same.
** Approximately 5.5% of seniors in the province have either tried to cut down or have had their doctor suggest a reduction in their use of prescription medication within the last year. [This may be a better measure of "dependence"]
There were 1.1% of seniors who experienced physical withdrawal symptoms as a result of stopping or reducing levels of prescription medications in the last 12 months.
Use of Prescription Medication to Relieve Pain
Pain medication was the most prevalent form of those prescription drugs taken by older adults in New Brunswick in the year prior to the survey. Approximately one-third of all seniors had taken prescription strength pain medication within the last 12 months, about twice as many as had taken sleep inducing medication, the second most prevalent prescription drug measured.
Approximately 40% of all seniors who have taken any prescription medication in the previous year had used prescription strength pain relief drugs. About one in five of all the older adults reported pain-killers as the only prescription medication (of the four types measured) they have taken during the past year (21.3%).
Use of Prescription Medication to Assist Sleep
Approximately 17.1% of all seniors in New Brunswick had taken prescription medication specifically to help them sleep in the past year, accounting for 20% of those who took any prescribed medication at all. Nearly 5% of seniors reported sleep assisting drugs as the only one of the four types of prescription medications measured they used in the past 12 months (4.7%).
Seniors who are not currently married were more inclined to have used prescription medication to assist sleep than those who are presently living with a partner, with those who were married at some time in the past most likely to have taken this type of drug in the past 12 months.
Use of Prescription Medication to Reduce Anxiety/Panic Attacks
Around 9.4% of older adults in New Brunswick reported using prescription medication to reduce anxiety and/or panic attacks within the 12 months prior to the survey.
Interestingly, use of prescription medication for anxiety DECREASED significantly with age. Adults aged 65 to 74 years were just over half as likely to use this type of medication than those in the youngest age group. Adults over 74 years of age were less than one-third as inclined to be take medicated for this condition.
The people most likely to be taking anti-anxiety medication were those who no longer had a spouse or partner. This group is 1.32 more likely to be using this type of drug than seniors who have never been married. Seniors who are presently married or living together were least inclined to be using prescription medication to reduce anxiety.
Compared to the provincial average, older adults in health region 2 (Saint John area) were 1.64 times more likely to relieve anxiety through prescription medication at 14.3%. Seniors in Moncton area were the least likely to be using prescription drugs for anxiety attacks (5.7%).
Use of Prescription Medication to Treat Depression
The prevalence of prescription medication use to treat depression in the previous year was similar to the prevalence of anti-anxiety prescriptions at 9.5%.
The researchers note that, the overlap in use of these two types of medication is high, with 4.9% of seniors were taking both anti-anxiety drugs and anti-depressants in the past year.
The likelihood of taking prescription medication to treat depression DECLINED significantly with age: adults over 74 years of age were half as likely as those aged 55 to 64 years to be using this type of drug.
2002 Seniors Survey – Prevalence of Substance Use and Gambling Among New Brunswick Adults Aged 55+. Online at
Page last updated Sunday October 31, 2004
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