Alternative Medicine

The Use of Alternative Medicine

To shed light onto the extent, use, and cost of unconventional alternative medicine (sometimes called complementary medicine) in the United States, researchers Eisenberg and Kessler (Eisenberg et al., 1993) conducted a national survey to determine the prevalence, patterns of use, and costs of healing methods considered “unconventional” by Western medicine standards. Such therapies included acupuncture, acupressure, and various herbal remedies, to name but a few. Of the 1,500 individuals surveyed, 34 percent reported using at least one form of alternative therapy over the previous year. The majority of those surveyed used alternative therapies to treat predominantly chronic illnesses rather than life-threatening problems. The average charge per visit to receive these therapies was $27.60. Most charges were paid out-of-pocket and in full.

Eisenberg and Kessler estimate that Americans made approximately 425 million visits to alternative care physicians. This number exceeded the estimated 388 million visits to primary care physicians. Interestingly, 72 percent of respondents did not tell their primary care physicians that they had used alternative treatments. Roughly half of those who used unconventional therapy had not direct supervision from a medical doctor in the use of such therapies. Of the seniors who responded, 83 percent of those who used unconventional therapies also used conventional medical treatments.

The conditions most frequently treated with unconventionalmethods were back problems, anxiety, headaches, chronic pain (such as arthritis), and cancer. Unconventional therapies most often used included relaxation techniques, chiropractic care, and massage. Other frequently used treatments were herbal medicine, megavitamin therapy, homeopathy, and acupuncture.

Working with a Certified Alternative medicine practitioner may provide benefits, especially when treatments are coordinated with seniors’ primary physicians. In choosing a Certified Alternative Medicine practitioner, seniors should consider the following factors:

  • Certification and licensure
  • Institutional endorsement
  • Peer endorsement
  • Patient endorsement
  • Experience with specific conditions
  • Cooperation or collaboration with a primary physician
  • Ability to recognize limitations of the treatment and, as a result, the need to refer to another physician or practitioner
  • Liability insurance
  • Projected number of treatments and cost
  • Time frame treatment

Massage Therapy for Seniors

The benefit of touch at any age is too often minimized. For seniors, massage therapy may be extremely beneficial. So often the only touch they encounter is in the doctor’s office, when they are being poked with needles or having other tests. In addition to providing noninvasive pain relief or comfort in the wake of chronic illness, massage provides physical and emotional help for those struggling with bodies that just don’t work as well as they used to. IN addition, research indicates that massage therapy can improve circulation.

Passive range of motion exercises (performed by a therapist) can improve joint mobility by helping joints and tight muscles function properly. Clinical observations and personal journals show that seniors who take advantage of massage therapy become happier and healthier in a very short time. They feel less depressed, have fewer doctor visits, and use fewer stimulants (e.g., caffeinated drinks). For seniors, massage therapy can be performed in a bed or chair. It can even be performed in a wheelchair. Massage therapy designed for seniors is tailored to be gentler than standard massage, thereby preventing damage to fragile skin and tissues.

Nutritional Supplements and Seniors

Nutritionalsupplements can be extremely beneficial in providing vitamins and minerals to seniors who may not have nutritionally sound diets. However, unsupervised use of nutritional supplements is not recommended. Because of this, seniors should see advice from qualified professionals regarding the types and amounts of supplements to use. Excessive use of specific nutritional supplements goes beyond their nutritional function and may cause problems. For example, taken in excessive dosages, vitamins A, D, and K can be toxic.

Nutritional Supplement Overdose Symptoms

Vitamin A: fatigue, lethargy, hair loss, headaches, liver damage

Vitamin D: possible kidney, failure, heart damage, bone fragility

Vitamin C: gas, diarrhea, dehydration (from diarrhea)

Niacin: flushed skin, impaired liver function

Iodine: enlargement of thyroid gland

Magnesium: diarrhea, possible gastrointestinal and cardiovascular effects

No one should self-medicate large doses of vitamins, minerals, or other nutritional supplements. Use of supplements is best discussed with physicians. This will better ensure that the dosages are safe and that no unwanted interactions between the supplements and other prescribed medications will occur.

The information above is reprinted from Working with Seniors: Health, Financial and Social Issues with permission from Society of Certified Senior Advisors® . Copyright © 2009. All rights reserved.