News Brief

Majority of Older Adults Use CAM

Nearly three out of every four adults older than age 50 use some kind of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), such as acupuncture and herbal medicine, according to a new study. The study found that 71% of older adults used some form of alternative medicine in 2000. A study conducted in 2002 found a lower rate—about 62%—among all adults.

“Many types of alternative medicine have not been tested for safety and effectiveness, and yet a large majority of older adults are using them,” says Gong-Soog Hong, MS, PhD, co-author of the study and professor of consumer sciences at the Ohio State University in Columbus. “This tells us there is a serious need for more consumer education.”

Hong and her colleagues presented their research at the annual meeting of the American Council on Consumer Interests in Columbus on April 9. The researchers used data from the 2000 Health and Retirement Survey, conducted by the University of Michigan and funded primarily by the National Institute on Aging. The survey included 848 respondents aged 50 and over.

The survey asked about the use of six types of alternative medicine: chiropractic, acupuncture, massage therapy, breathing exercises, herbal medicine, and meditation. The most commonly used form of alternative medicine was chiropractic, which about 43% of respondents had used. Acupuncture was the least used.

Some of the results will need more research to explain, Hong says. For example, the findings showed African Americans, widows, and more religious people all tended to use alternative medicine more often than did other older adults.

The researchers could more readily understand other results. Respondents, for instance, were more likely to use alternative medicine if they said they were in poor health and if they reported more problems with daily activities, such as carrying groceries, eating, or bathing.

Of those who described their health as poor, 65% said they used some form of alternative medicine they considered preventive or curative—a higher percentage than among any other group. In addition, about 63% of respondents who said they were not satisfied with their health care also tried alternative therapies classified as preventive or curative.

Hong and her colleagues are now working on a study that will take a more comprehensive look at what alternative medicines people are using and how often they are using them.

“Alternative medicine provides an important option in response to the need for health care in the United States,” Hong says. “We need to know more about who is using alternative medicine and ensuring that they are educated about the medicines and therapies they are using.”