In the many descriptive studies on prescribed psychotropic drug use by community-dwelling older persons, several sociodemographic and other factors associated with drug use receive inconsistent support.
Empirical reports with data on at least benzodiazepine or antidepressant drug use in samples of older persons published between 1990 and 2001 (n = 32) were identified from major databases and analyzed to determine which factors are most frequently associated with psychotropic drug use in multivariate analyses. Methodological aspects were also examined.
Most reports used probability samples of users and non-users and employed cross-sectional designs. Among variables considered in 5 or more reports, race, proximity to health centers, medical consultations, sleep complaints, and health perception were virtually always associated to drug use. Gender, mental health, and physical health status were associated in about two-thirds of reports. Associations with age, marital status, medication coverage, socioeconomic status, and social support were usually not observed.
The large variety of methods to operationalize drug use, mental health status, and social support probably affected the magnitude of observed relationships. Employing longitudinal designs and distinguishing short-term from long-term use, focusing on samples of drug users exclusively, defining drug use and drug classes more uniformly, and utilizing measures of psychological well-being rather than only of distress, might clarify the nature of observed associations and the direction of causality. Few studies tested specific hypotheses. Most studies focused on individual characteristics of respondents, neglecting the potential contribution of health care professionals to the phenomenon of psychotropic drug use among seniors.