objective: to analyze polypharmacy (daily use of two or more) of continuous use medication and its associated factors in the elderly. methods: a cross sectional study conducted with elderly individuals living in an urban area of the municipality of quixadá, ceara, brazil from may to december, 2009. the sample consisted of 384 individuals who were 60 years old or older and users of continuous medication. the variables studied were sociodemographic, economical, and health characteristics related to use of medications. for the analysis of the association between the dependent variable polypharmacy of continuous-use medication and the independent variables a logistic regression model was developed. results: results showed a predominance of females, between 60 and 69 years old, married, with incomplete elementary school education, non-paid job, family income of one minimum salary, living in their own home and together with up to three individuals. a prevalence of 70.6% of polypharmacy in the elderly was found, and it was higher in women (66.4%). factors positively associated with the use of two or more continuous-use medication were: family income over one minimum salary (or 2.83; ci95% = 1.54-5.32); two or more self-reported chronic conditions (or 17.71; ci95% = 9.80-31.990) and self-perception of regular to poor quality of life (or 2.85; ci95% = 1.60-5.07). conclusions: the study observed a practice of polypharmacy of continuous-use medications in the elderly with family income over one minimum wage, two or more chronic conditions and self-perception of regular to poor quality of life. such status leads to questions on social, cultural, economic and health aspects.