Medication is often user-unfriendly for elderly patients

95 percent experiences at least one problem

Pillen zijn gebruiksonvriendelijk
Photo: iStock@SquaredPixels

The user-friendliness of medical drugs needs to improve considerably. Pharmaceutical researcher Kim Notenboom of Utrecht University says this. She researched the problems the elderly experience in their use of medication and has her PhD Defence on this subject on 27 September.

Pushing a pill out of the blister, breaking a tablet in two or opening the packaging: it very often results in problems for elderly users of medication. Kim Notenboom researched 59 elderly people who live on their own and are aged 70 years or older. The overwhelming majority of this focus group (95 percent) had at least one practical problem in the use of their medication. In ten cases, these problems could cause the patient's health to worsen.

The user-friendliness of medication is rarely ever researched.

“The pharmaceutical industry invests a lot of time, energy and money in the testing of new medication,” Notenboom says. “But they only look at the safety, effectiveness and quality of the medication. The user-friendliness is rarely ever researched, even though it can certainly affect the effectiveness and safety. One example: if a patient can only take their medication if a neighbour helps them with it, there will be trouble if the neighbour goes on vacation.”


Notenboom specifically researched elderly people because they have to deal with limitations that can hamper the use of medication more often, such as arthritis, Parkinson's disease or reduced eyesight. When Notenboom asked 36 elderly people and 36 young adults to break twelve tablets in two, the difference between those groups turned out to be big. The elderly people succeeded in breaking 38 per cent of the pills. For the youngsters, this was 78 per cent.

Testing process

In her doctoral thesis, Notenboom makes some recommendations. “Drug manufacturers and government institutions need to know this is a thing. I believe the user-friendliness should become a part of the testing process of the government and pharmaceutical companies. If we want to solve this problem, the pharmaceutical industry, rule makers, care providers, healthcare-insurance companies and patients will have to dedicate themselves to it.”

During her PhD research, Notenboom also worked at the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (Dutch name: Rijksinstituut voor Volksgezondheid en Milieu, RIVM).