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Drug use at the end of life in older adults
  1. Hsien-Yeh Chuang1,2,
  2. Yu-Wen Wen3,
  3. Liang-Kung Chen4,5,6 and
  4. Fei-Yuan Hsiao1,2,7
  1. 1 Department of Pharmacy, National Taiwan University Hospital, Taipei, Taiwan
  2. 2 Graduate Institute of Clinical Pharmacy, National Taiwan University, Taipei, Taiwan
  3. 3 Clinical Informatics and Medical Statistics Research Center, Chang Gung University, Taoyuan, Taiwan
  4. 4 Aging and Health Research Center, National Yang-Ming University, Taipei, Taiwan
  5. 5 Center for Geriatrics and Gerontology, Taipei Veterans General Hospital, Taipei, Taiwan
  6. 6 Department of Geriatric Medicine, School of Medicine, National Yang-Ming University, Taipei, Taiwan
  7. 7 School of Pharmacy, National Taiwan University, Taipei, Taiwan
  1. Correspondence to Dr Fei-Yuan Hsiao, Graduate Institute of Clinical Pharmacy, National Taiwan University, Taipei, Taiwan; fyshsiao{at}


Objective To investigate symptom-relief and comorbid drug uses at the end of life for older people with different dying trajectories (cancer, organ failure, frailty and sudden death) in Taiwan.

Methods In a retrospective observational study of older people aged 65 years and older who died in hospitals between 2008 and 2012, we used NHIRD to measure numbers, incremental changes and determinants of symptom-relief and comorbid drug use in the last month of outpatient care and last hospitalisation before death.

Results We included 59 407 older adults (cancer 37%, organ failure 26%, frailty 35% and sudden death 2%) who died in hospitals for this study. In the last hospitalisation before death, individuals who died of cancer received greatest number of symptom-relief drugs (mean: 4.65, [SD 2.77]) and increased most the average change in the number of symptom-relief drug use (+1.60; SD 3.36). However, individuals who died of organ failure received the highest number of comorbid drugs (mean 2.88, [SD 1.95]) and also increased most the average change in the number of comorbid drug use (+0.17; SD 2.28) at last hospitalisation. Different dying trajectories were key determinants of receiving symptom-relief and comorbid drugs in our study.

Conclusions Our study suggests that the drug use of older adults at the end of life in the cancer group is different from that in the organ failure and frailty groups. Policymakers and health professionals should consider the different strategies to optimise drug use for older people with different dying trajectories near their end of life.

  • end of life care
  • dying trajectories
  • symptom-relief drug
  • comorbid drug
  • drug utilisation

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  • Contributors H-YC, Y-WW, L-KC and F-YH contributed to the study concept and design. H-YC and F-YH acquired and analysed the data. H-YC, Y-WW, L-KC and F-YH interpreted the data. H-YC and F-YH drafted the manuscript. L-KC and F-YH revised the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

  • Funding F-YH received research assistantships from a research project (MOST104-2410-H-002-225-MY3) sponsored by the Ministry of Science and Technology, Taiwan. The author had full access to all of the data in the study and takes responsibility for the integrity of the data and the accuracy of their analysis.

  • Disclaimer The funding source had no role in the design and conduct of the study; collection, management, analysis and interpretation of the data; preparation, review, or approval of the manuscript; the decision to submit the manuscript for publication.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Supplemental material This content has been supplied by the author(s). It has not been vetted by BMJ Publishing Group Limited (BMJ) and may not have been peer-reviewed. Any opinions or recommendations discussed are solely those of the author(s) and are not endorsed by BMJ. BMJ disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on the content. Where the content includes any translated material, BMJ does not warrant the accuracy and reliability of the translations (including but not limited to local regulations, clinical guidelines, terminology, drug names and drug dosages), and is not responsible for any error and/or omissions arising from translation and adaptation or otherwise.