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Prevalence of psychotropic polypharmacy in nursing home residents with dementia: a meta-analysis

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  07 January 2021

Dylan J. Jester*
School of Aging Studies, University of South Florida, Tampa, FL, USA
Victor Molinari
School of Aging Studies, University of South Florida, Tampa, FL, USA
Janice C. Zgibor
College of Public Health, University of South Florida, Tampa, FL, USA
Ladislav Volicer
School of Aging Studies, University of South Florida, Tampa, FL, USA
Correspondence should be addressed to: Dylan Jester, School of Aging Studies, University of South Florida, 13301 Bruce B. Downs Blvd., MHC 1318, Tampa, FL, 33612, USA. Phone +813 974-3232. Email:



Nursing home (NH) residents with dementia is exposed to high rates of psychotropic prescriptions. Our objectives were to: (1) pool the prevalence estimates of psychotropic polypharmacy from the existing literature and (2) examine potentially influential factors that are related to a higher or lower prevalence.


Meta-analysis of data collected from randomized trials, quasi-experimental, prospective or retrospective cohort, and cross-sectional studies. English-language searches of PubMed and PsycINFO were completed by November 2020. Included studies reported prevalence estimates of psychotropic polypharmacy (i.e. defined as either two-or-more or three-or-more medications concurrently) in NH residents with dementia.

Setting and Participants:

NH residents with dementia.


Random-effects models were used to pool the prevalence of psychotropic polypharmacy in NH residents with dementia across studies. Estimates were provided for both two-or-more and three-or-more concurrent medications. Heterogeneity and publication bias were measured. Meta-regression examined the influence of the percentage of the sample who were male, mean age of the sample, geographic region (continent), sample size, and study year on the prevalence of psychotropic polypharmacy.


Twenty-five unique articles were included comprising medications data from 92,370 NH residents with dementia in 12 countries. One-in-three (33%, [95% CI: 28%, 39%]) NH residents with dementia received two-or-more psychotropic medications concurrently. One-in-eight (13%, [95% CI: 10%, 17%]) received three-or-more psychotropic medications concurrently. Estimates were highly variable across both definitions of psychotropic polypharmacy (p < 0.001). Among study-level demographics, geographic region, sample size, or study year, only male sex was associated with greater use of two-or-more psychotropic medications (Unadjusted OR = 1.02, p = 0.006; Adjusted OR = 1.04, p = 0.07).


Psychotropic polypharmacy is common among NH residents with dementia. Identifying the causes of utilization and the effects on resident health and well-being should be prioritized by federal entities seeking to improve NH quality.

Review Article
© International Psychogeriatric Association 2021

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