Complementary and Alternative Medicine Among Older Adults in the United States: Current Evidence and Future Directions

  • Yoon, Saun-Joo L. (Adult & Elderly Department, College of Nursing, University of Florida)
  • Published : 2006.12.31


Complementary and alternative medicine has gained popularity and respectability in recent years in the United States. Since aging is often associated with chronic health conditions that commonly lead to physical and psychosocial disabilities (e.g., depression, functional and/or cognitive disabilities, and decreased quality of life), older adults often seek options to maintain health and treat chronic conditions as an adjunct to conventional medical care. Herbal products, the most commonly used among various complementary and alternative medicines (CAM), should be used with caution due to potential herbal-drug interactions (related to polypharmacy) and herbal-disease interactions (related to comorbidities). Five of the most common chronic conditions in older adults are chronic pain, cardiovascular problems, hypertension, diabetes, and chronic lung problems. A high rate of falls or risk of falling is also a problem unique to this older population. For these conditions, only a few types of CAM (e.g., acupuncture, qi gong, tai chi) were tested, with promising results. However, in spite of evidence supporting the use of certain types of CAM to alleviate some common chronic conditions, findings are limited in terms of other types of CAM tested and both short and long-term effects. More rigorous clinical trials of various CAM types are thus warranted to advance scientific knowledge and establish evidence-based practices to care for the growing number of older adults who deserve to have a better quality of life.