The report by the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) found two-thirds of seniors in nursing care take at least 10 prescription drugs, with anti-depressants among the most common.
"Certain drugs, like anti-psychotics, like anti-depressants, were used much more frequently in the long-term care population,” said report co-author Jordan Hunt, manager of pharmaceuticals for the CIHI.
Among seniors not living in long-term care centres, six of the 10 most commonly used drugs are used to treat cardiovascular conditions.
But looking at data across Canada from 2012, the report found seniors in long-term care are much more likely to be taking psychotropic drugs.
Almost 60 per cent of those seniors are on anti-depressant drugs, compared to 20 per cent of seniors still living in their own homes.
And anti-psychotic drug use in long-term care settings is nine times higher than for seniors living in the community.
Hunt said seniors in care usually have more advanced cases of dementia that may be treated with drugs to reduce aggression.
Jacqueline Miles, a co-ordinator with the Calgary Seniors' Resource Centre, said she’s not surprised by the findings, but she is troubled by them.
"Often being in care can lead you to being more isolated, if you don't have friends or family that can take care of you,” she said.
“Seniors often end up in care after the loss of a loved one, after they've developed a chronic illness — that can also lead to depression."
Miles said it’s unfortunate that many people think depression is just part of the aging process.
“We need targeted services and programs to support them,” she said.