Most Older Adults Use Alternative Medicine

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – More than 70 percent of adults aged 50 or older use some type of alternative therapy, such as herbal medicine, meditation, or seeing a chiropractor, according to new study findings.

Author Dr. Gong-Soog Hong said she was surprised to see so many older adults turning to alternative treatments. Although it’s important to have “options,” she said that many of these remedies are largely untested, and experts still don’t know if they interfere with many combinations of drugs older adults are taking.

“Any kind of side effects can be possible,” Hong told Reuters Health. “That’s pretty scary.”

Hong and her team presented their findings last weekend at the annual meeting of the American Council on Consumer Interests in Columbus, Ohio.

Hong, who is based at Ohio State University in Columbus, added that many older adults likely try alternative remedies because they have pain or discomfort that’s not alleviated by conventional Western medicine.

Indeed, people were more likely to turn to alternative medicine if they said their health was poor, and they had more problems with day-to-day activities such as bathing. “So when conventional medicine cannot give you an answer, sometimes you turn to alternatives,” Hong said in an interview.

To investigate how many older adults are, indeed, turning to alternatives, Hong and her team interviewed 848 people aged 50 and above about their use of chiropractic medicine, acupuncture, massage therapy, breathing exercises, herbal medicine and meditation.

Seventy-one percent of respondents said they had tried at least one of the six types of alternative therapy. The most popular remedy was chiropractic medicine, used by 43 percent of older adults.

The least popular remedy was acupuncture, perhaps because few insurance companies cover it, Hong noted. “It’s pretty much out-of-pocket cost,” she said.

Hong said that one reason alternative medicine appears so popular among older adults is that the definition she and her colleagues used for “alternative” is fairly broad.

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