Retired...From Taking Meds?

Diabetes and hypertension prescription medication adherence among retirees explored in new study

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Retirement can be a liberating time for many people. But with this huge life transition, people's habits may change. They might even stop taking their medications as prescribed.

A recent study looked at medication adherence among patients in Finland with high blood pressure or diabetes.

The researchers found that, among both men and women with hypertension and men with diabetes, poor adherence to prescribed medications increased after retirement.

"Set up reminders to take your medications as prescribed."

According to the study authors, both cardiovascular issues and diabetes are leading causes of death, and not following prescribed medication regimens can reduce the effectiveness of treatment for these conditions.

However, "...surprisingly little is known about the extent to which common life transitions affect adherence to treatment," the study authors explained. "Retirement is a particularly relevant life transition, because it coincides with various changes in daily routines that potentially affect the continuity of treatment."

To examine medication habits, the authors of this new study, led by Mika Kivimäki, PhD, of the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health at University College London, relied on data from the Finnish Public Sector study from the years 1994 to 2011.

For prescription information, the researchers looked at linked data for participants through national prescription and health registers. For retirement information, data from the Finnish Centre for Pensions was used.

Dr. Kivimäki and team followed 3,880 participants, 70.1 percent of whom were female, for three years before and four years after their retirement. The average age for retirement was 61 years old.

Of the participants, 3,468 had hypertension (high blood pressure), and 412 had type 2 diabetes — a condition in which the body does not use insulin properly, resulting in high blood glucose (sugar) levels.

The researchers were mainly looking at proportion of "poor adherence" to medication, which they defined as having less than 40 percent of days covered by filled prescriptions.

Among men with hypertension, the researchers found that 5.6 percent had poor adherence to their medication prior to retirement, which increased to 7.2 percent after their retirement.

Among men with diabetes, the researchers found that 2.3 percent had poor adherence prior to retirement, which increased to 5.2 percent after retirement.

Of the women with hypertension, 6.1 percent had poor adherence before retirement, which increased to 7.5 percent after retirement. No significant difference in medication adherence was seen among women with diabetes.

"We found an increase in the prevalence of poor adherence to medication after retirement among men and women with hypertension and men with type 2 diabetes," wrote Dr. Kivimäki and team.

"These findings suggest that retirement may increase medication nonadherence, a timely issue given that the proportion of people aged 65 years or older is growing rapidly. Further research is needed to determine the generalizability of our findings across multiple settings and in other populations," they wrote.

It is important to note that this study did not attempt to explain why the differences were seen in medication adherence before and after retirement. Also, adherence was measured based on whether participants filled their prescriptions, and it is not definite that a filled prescription means the medication was actually taken by the patient.

This study was published September 30 by CMAJ, the journal of the Canadian Medical Association.

Several authors reported receiving grants from a variety of organizations, including the United Kingdom Medical Research Council, the National Institutes of Health, the Finnish Work Environment Foundation and the Social Insurance Institution of Finland.

Review Date: 
October 1, 2013
Last Updated:
October 2, 2013