Medication management in older people: the MEMORABLE realist synthesis

Ian D Maidment, Sally Lawson, Geoff Wong, Andrew Booth, Anne Watson, Jane McKeown, Hadar Zaman, Judy Mullan, Sylvia Bailey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The number and proportion of older people in the UK are increasing, as are multimorbidity (potentially reducing quality of life) and polypharmacy (increasing the risk of adverse drug events). Together, these complex factors are challenging for older people, informal carers, and health and care practitioners.

MEMORABLE (MEdication Management in Older people: Realist Approaches Based on Literature and Evaluation) aimed to understand how medication management works and propose improvements.

A realist approach informed three work packages, combining a realist review of secondary data with a realist evaluation of primary interview data, in a theory-driven, causal analysis.

The setting was in the community.

Older people, informal carers, and health and care practitioners.

Studies relating to medication management and to reviewing and reconciling medications; and realist-informed interviews.

Main outcome measures
Not applicable.

Data sources
MEDLINE, CINAHL (Cumulative Index of Nursing and Allied Health Literature) and EMBASE were searched (all searched from January 2009 to July 2017; searched on 1 August 2017). Supplementary articles were identified by the Research Team. Data were also obtained through interviews.

Review methods
Searches of electronic databases were supplemented by citation-tracking for explanatory contributions, as well as accessing topic-relevant grey literature. Following RAMESES (Realist And Meta-narrative Evidence Syntheses: Evolving Standards) guidelines, articles were screened and iteratively analysed with interview data, to generate theory-informed (normalisation process theory) explanations.

Developing a framework to explain medication management as a complex intervention across five stages: identifying problem (Stage 1), starting, changing or stopping medications (Stage 3) and continuing to take medications (Stage 4), where older people, sometimes with informal carers, make individual decisions and follow routines that fit medication management into their day-to-day lives, engendering a sense of control. In getting diagnosis and/or medications (Stage 2) and reviewing/reconciling medications (Stage 5), older people and practitioners share decision-making in time-limited contacts: involving four steps – sense-making, relationships, action and reflection/monitoring (normalisation process theory); and conceptualising burden – through a detailed analysis of Stage 5, generating a theoretical framework and identifying five burden types amendable to mitigation: ambiguity, concealment, unfamiliarity, fragmentation and exclusion. Proposing interventions: risk identification – a simple way of identifying older people and informal carers who are not coping, at risk and who need appropriate help and support; and individualised information – a short, personalised record and reference point, co-produced and shared by older people, informal carers and practitioners that addresses the experience of living with multimorbidities and polypharmacy.

Few studies directly address the complexity of medication management as a process and how it works. Limitations included, having identified the overall complexity, the need to focus the analysis on reviewing/reconciling medications (Stage 5), the exclusion of non-English-language literature, the focus on non-institutionalised populations and the broad definition of older people.

MEMORABLE explored the complexity of medication management. It highlighted the way interpersonal stages in the medication management process, notably reviewing/reconciling medications, contribute to the mitigation of burdens that are often hidden.

Future work
Co-produced studies to scope and trial the two proposed interventions; studies to extend the detailed understanding of medication management, linked to burden mitigation; and a study to clarify the medication management outcomes wanted by older people, informal carers and practitioners.

Study registration
This study is registered as PROSPERO CRD42016043506.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages160
JournalHealth Services and Delivery Research
Issue number26
Publication statusPublished - 30 Jun 2020

Bibliographical note

© Queen’s Printer and Controller of HMSO 2020. This work was produced by Maidment et al. under the terms of a
commissioning contract issued by the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care. This issue may be freely reproduced for
the purposes of private research and study and extracts (or indeed, the full report) may be included in professional journals
provided that suitable acknowledgement is made and the reproduction is not associated with any form of advertising.
Applications for commercial reproduction should be addressed to: NIHR Journals Library, National Institute for Health
Research, Evaluation, Trials and Studies Coordinating Centre, Alpha House, University of Southampton Science Park,
Southampton SO16 7NS, UK.
Funding: This project was funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Health Services and Delivery Research programme


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