New Horizons in Deprescribing for Older People

Henry J. Woodford; James Fisher


Age Ageing. 2019;48(6):768-775. 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


Deprescribing has gained interest recently, driven by an ageing population seeing an increasing number living with multiple long-term conditions. This, coupled with disease-specific guidelines derived from clinical trials in younger people, has led to an increase in exposure to polypharmacy and the associated therapeutic burden. Older people, especially those living with frailty, tend to experience lower efficacy of these medications along with a higher risk of drug adverse effects. Explanations for these differences include the physiological effects of frailty, drug–drug interactions, drug–disease interactions and reduced medication adherence. Adverse drug reactions often go unnoticed and can trigger further prescribing. Certain medications have been recognised as potentially inappropriate for people with frailty, yet their use remains common. Evidence suggests that many older people are open to the concept of reducing medications. Deprescribing should be based around a shared decision-making approach. Trials to date have suggested that it can often be achieved without harm. To date, there are few data to support improvements in hospitalisation or mortality rates. However, there is some evidence that it may reduce polypharmacy, improve medication adherence, reduce financial costs and improve quality of life. In the future, it will be necessary to grow the evidence base and improve public and clinician awareness of the potential benefits of deprescribing. It will require excellent team working and communication between all of those involved in the prescribing and administration of medications, also supported by improved healthcare informatics. Non-pharmacological approaches will need to be promoted. Fewer drugs is not less care.


In this New Horizons article, we will consider the important topic of deprescribing for older people. We will define what constitutes deprescribing, describe why it ought to be undertaken for older people and consider when and how it should be implemented. We will consider the evidence base for deprescribing before reflecting on what the future of deprescribing might hold.