Alternative Medicine :: 69% older Americans using complementary and alternative medicine

In spite of the high use of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) among people age 50 or older, 69 percent of those who use CAM do not talk to their doctors about it, according to a new survey conducted by AARP and the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) at the National Institutes of Health. The survey examined conversations between patients and their physicians regarding CAM use.

CAM is a group of diverse medical and health care systems, practices, and products that are not presently considered to be part of conventional medicine. It includes such products and practices as herbal supplements, meditation, homeopathy, and acupuncture.

“We know that people 50 and older tend to be high users of complementary and alternative medicine, but this study was the first to explore gaps in communications regarding the use of CAM between patients and their physicians,” said Cheryl Matheis, AARP Director of Health Strategies. “Communication is important to ensure the wise use of all conventional and CAM therapies.”

Differences in communication practices across demographic groups were also found. Women were more likely than men to have discussed CAM use (26 percent versus 16 percent) and what types of therapies to use (70 percent versus 51 percent). In addition, people with incomes of $75,000 or more (31 percent) or $25,000 to $49,999 (25 percent) frequently discussed CAM use with doctors.

“An open dialogue between consumers and their physicians is critical to ensuring safe and appropriate integrated care,” said Margaret A. Chesney, Ph.D., NCCAM’s Deputy Director. “As the Federal Government’s lead agency for scientific research on CAM, NCCAM is especially committed to educating both consumers and health care providers about the importance of discussing the use of CAM and providing evidence-based information to help with health care decision-making.”