Background: non-adherence is a common cause of treatment failure. The causes and context of non-adherence may differ amongst older people and reviews of interventions to improve adherence have tended to focus on the younger adult population.

Objective: to conduct a systematic review of interventions to aid adherence to medication for older people over the age of 65.

Method: relevant papers identified by searching the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews and the Database of Abstracts of Review of Effectiveness (Cochrane Library), Medline 1966–October 2002, Embase 1980–October 2002, Best Evidence, PsychINFO 1887–October 2002 and CINAHL 1982–October 2002. These were then hand-searched. The papers that fitted our inclusion criteria were selected. Two independent reviewers using an established tool assessed the studies for methodological quality. A non-statistical narrative approach was then taken to analyse the studies due to the heterogeneity of the outcome measures.

Results: 7 studies were identified. They used a variety of approaches involving external cognitive supports and/or educational interventions. Most studies were of poor methodological quality. Statistically significant effects, where present, tended to have small effects clinically.

Conclusions: currently there is no strong evidence to support the use of any one intervention type. Future research should use combinations of approaches, as there is some evidence that these are more likely to be successful.