Alternative Medicine :: Rural Elderly Turn to Alternative Remedies

Alternative medicine is just as popular in rural North Carolina as it is in America’s urban centers.

But a new study finds older North Carolina adults are more likely to use home or folk remedies such as vitamins, Epsom salts, or a daily “tonic” of vinegar rather than acupuncture, homeopathy or massage therapy.

Researchers at Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem surveyed 701 diabetics, aged 65 and older, in two rural North Carolina communities. They found that most of the respondents did not use complementary and alternative therapies to treat diabetes or other chronic diseases.

“They are using complementary and alternative medicine for prevention or for treating symptoms (a headache, a sore throat, a cut), but not for treating a chronic condition,” the researchers said. In fact, alternative remedies “are largely a form of self-care” in this older, rural population, the study authors wrote.

It’s common for these people to use some complementary and alternative medicine therapies, such as vinegar or honey, as a general “tonic,” noted lead researcher Thomas Arcury.

“I’ve talked to older adults who’ll tell you should take two tablespoons of vinegar every day in a glass of warm water because it’s good for you. They aren’t treating anything in particular,” he said in a prepared statement.

More than half (52 percent) of the respondents used food home remedies (honey, lemon and garlic), and 57 percent used other home remedies (tobacco, Epsom salts and salves). Vitamins were used by 45 percent of the respondents, and minerals were used by 17 percent. Only 6 percent used herbs for self-care.

Ethnicity played a major role in the use of alternative therapies. Blacks and Native Americans were 81 percent and 76 percent, respectively, more likely to use food home remedies than whites and more than twice as likely to use other home remedies.

“We want to understand how people make decisions about managing their health. If we understand how people are treating themselves, the information can be useful for physicians,” Arcury said.

The study appears in the March issue of the Journal of Gerontology.

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