Complementary and alternative medicine, or CAM, includes treatments like herbal remedies, homeopathy, and acupuncture. It’s becoming quite popular with people over the age of 50. However, a new study shows that many seniors who use CAM don’t discuss it with their regular physicians.
The study was conducted by the American Association of Retired People (AARP) in the spring of 2006. More than 1,500 seniors – by AARP’s definition, people over the age of 50 – were interviewed by telephone. 63% of these people said that they used or had used alternative medicine therapies, but 69% of those said they’d never talked about it with their doctors.
There were a variety of reasons given for not bringing up the subject of alternative medicine. Many seniors said the doctor never asked about it. Others didn’t know they were supposed to mention it. Others said there wasn’t enough time during the appointment. And some were afraid to talk about it, thinking their doctor wouldn’t want to discuss it or wouldn’t approve of their choices.
But possibly the most important information revealed by the survey was that most of the seniors interviewed take at least one prescription medication. A full 20% take more than five prescriptions.
This disclosure is important because it means that doctors may be prescribing medications to patients who, unknown to them, are also using alternative medicine. This makes an interaction between the traditional and alternative remedies much more likely. And that could be very dangerous – possibly even life-threatening.
There’s also an implication for physicians here. Some may be open-minded about the use of alternative medicine; others may not be. But regardless of how they feel about alternative therapies, people are going to use them, so physicians need to find a way to encourage patients to talk about them.
The seniors who did discuss alternative medicine with their doctors most commonly talked about which therapies to use, how effective they might be, and their safety, especially when combined with traditional medications. These are all common subjects that could be discussed with anyone who is using, or considering using, alternative therapies. But if it doesn’t occur to people to bring them up, or if they deliberately avoid talking about them, an important – and possibly essential – part of their care is missing.
The field of medicine is expanding all the time, and it can be very hard to keep up with all the changes. Alternative therapies are becoming more acceptable – and accepted – as ways to treat many conditions. But they have yet to enter “mainstream” medicine, where they would be included in all treatment considerations. Until then, it’s important for doctors and patients to keep the lines of communication as open as possible. This is the only way to ensure that people get the best and most appropriate care that’s possible.