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Use of complementary medicine in older Americans: Results from the Health and Retirement Study

Publication Abstract

Ness, J., D.J. Cirillo, David Weir, N.L. Nisly, and R.B. Wallace. 2005. "Use of complementary medicine in older Americans: Results from the Health and Retirement Study." Gerontologist, 45(4): 516-524.

Purpose: The correlates of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) utilization among elders have not been fully investigated. This study was designed to identify such correlates in a large sample of older adults, thus generating new data relevant to consumer education, medical training, and health practice and policy. Design and Methods: A subsample from the 2000 Wave of the Health and Retirement Study (n = 1,099) aged 52 or older were surveyed regarding use of CAM (chiropractic, alternative practitioners, dietary and herbal supplements, and personal practices). Results: Of respondents over 65 years of age, 88% used CAM, with dietary supplements and chiropractic most commonly reported (65% and 46%, respectively). Users of alternate practitioners and dietary supplements reported having more out-of-pocket expenses on health than nonusers of these modalities. Age correlated positively with use of dietary supplements and personal practices and inversely with alternative practitioner use. Men reported less CAM use than women, except for chiropractic and personal practices. Blacks and Hispanics used fewer dietary supplements and less chiropractic, but they reported more personal practices than Whites. Advanced education correlated with fewer chiropractic visits and more dietary and herbal supplement and personal practices use. Higher income, functional impairment, alcohol use, and frequent physician visits correlated with more alternative practitioner use. There was no association between CAM and number of chronic diseases. Implications: The magnitude and patterns of CAM use among elders lend considerable importance to this field in public health policy making and suggest a need for further epidemiological research and ongoing awareness efforts for both patients and providers.

Country of focus: United States of America.

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