March 21, 2007 — Even though older adults
generally have poorer health, middle-aged adults are most likely to
turn to complementary and alternative medicine, a new study shows. The
study also found that adults of different races or ethnic backgrounds
use these self-care methods in similar proportions.
“You’d expect that older adults and ethnic minorities would be the
greatest users of complementary and alternative medicine because they
tend to have more illness and relatively less money and often hold
different beliefs about medicine. But, in fact, they don’t,” said lead
author and sociologist Joseph Grzywacz, Ph.D.
The current study included data on 30,785 adults from a national
survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Participants, with an average age of 45, were about evenly divided
between men and women. About 22 percent were African-American or
Hispanic, while 4 percent were non-Hispanic Asians.
People were asked if they had used any of 28 complementary or
alternative therapies in the past year. Researchers organized these
therapies into six categories: alternative medical systems,
biologically based therapies, body-based methods, mind-body
interventions, energy therapies and self-prayer.
Researchers also asked participants whether they had any ailments
such as bodily pain, chronic conditions or difficulty performing
everyday activities due to illness.
Grzywacz and colleagues found that self-prayer, biologically based
therapies, and mind-body interventions were used more frequently than
other forms of complementary and alternative medicine.
Middle-aged people reported using complementary and alternative
therapies more often than either older or younger people. Older
participants were the least likely to use these forms of medicine, with
the exception of self-prayer, which was most commonly used by those 65
years and older.
Although there were no significant differences among racial and
ethnic groups in how individuals used complementary or alternative
medicine, Grzywacz said this may be related to the types of questions
posed: “[It] could simply be that we didn’t measure the more culturally
appropriate kinds of complementary and alternative practices that
different ethnic groups may be using.”
Grzywacz suggested that older adults may use these forms of
treatment less because they are less likely to have been exposed to
them when younger. He said it’s possible that older adults perceive
bodily ailments as normal signs of aging that don’t necessarily require
treatment. Conversely, middle-aged and younger participants may be more
likely to seek any treatments that may improve their health.
Andrew London, Ph.D., from the Center for Policy Research at
Syracuse University, takes those speculations one step further. The
results that show middle-aged adults as most likely to use
complementary and alternative medicine could in part be a reflection of
baby boomers’ approach to health, he said. “The baby boomer generation
was countercultural. They questioned authority — and medicine is a form
This study, by researchers at the Wake Forest University School of
Medicine and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, appears in
the Journal of Health and Social Behavior.
Source : Center For The Advancement Of Health