Without being exhaustive, the present literature review is comprehensive and the range of reports, methods, samples, and geographical locations provides a reasonably solid base to support most recommendations. This review was limited to empirical studies. To better understand the phenomenon of psychotropic drug use among community-dwelling elderly, it is desirable that historical, psychological, sociological, political and regulatory, as well as medical aspects of the phenomenon be considered.
While some factors are clearly associated with psychotropic drug use in the reviewed studies (such as race, proximity to health centers, sleep complaints, and health perception), few investigators test specific hypotheses to account for the associations. For example, sparse work focuses on cultural factors that might explain drug use disparities between Whites and African-Americans. Similarly, with most drug users being long-term and most drug treatments for insomnia losing their effectiveness with long-term use, the strong association between sleep complaints and drug use needs thorough examination.
One of the least studied aspects of the phenomena in the reviewed studies concerns the role of health care professionals. Physicians, nurses, and pharmacists all interact significantly with community-dwelling older persons, especially with those who take psychotropic medications. Only through a health care professional such as a physician and a pharmacist would the vast majority of older people obtain a psychotropic drug to relieve a sleep problem. Recently, the Internet and mail-order pharmacies without face-to-face interaction have facilitated individuals' access to prescription drugs. Each professional's role, as mentioned, is also likely to alter as the individual's phase of consumption transforms from short-to long-term. Researchers must face the challenge to incorporate variables related to health care professionals' attitudes and behaviors, as well as to new modes of distribution of psychotropic drugs to consumers, in their study of the phenomenon.
Approximately one third of community-dwelling older persons use psychotropic medications. If the rate of psychiatric disorders among a population serves as a guideline, then obviously older persons' use of psychiatric drugs far outpaces these drugs' standard indications and has extended into areas where drugs have little documented effectiveness. Viewed in this light, the ubiquitous phenomenon of long-term psychotropic drug use should evoke concern and caution. The discipline of nursing can definitely contribute to the rational use of these agents among older people. As suggested in this review, researchers do not still fully grasp the dynamics of psychotropic drug use among this population and creative and rigorous research from several disciplines, and from interdisciplinary perspectives, is needed. However, nurses concerned by the problem of the overuse of medication and its adverse consequences can already implement and evaluate programs to educate older people and allied health care and social service professionals about the risks of psychotropic drugs and alternatives to drugs for the management of everyday anxiety, loneliness, depression, and especially insomnia. Nurses can also actively implement and evaluate drug withdrawal programs aimed at long-term users who have had difficulty in withdrawing, and especially at short-term users who might soon be trapped into dependency and thus long-term use. Conversely, diverse patterns of psychotropic drug use undoubtedly exist among older persons, and positive patterns of use, emanating from users' own experiences and discoveries, need to be documented and disseminated.