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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Consultations with complementary and alternative medicine practitioners by older Australians: results from a national survey

Laurann Yen*, Tanisha Jowsey and Ian S McRae

Author Affiliations

Menzies Centre for Health Policy & Australian Primary Health Care Research Institute, Ian Potter House, Australian National University, Acton, ACT, 0200, Australia

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BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2013, 13:73  doi:10.1186/1472-6882-13-73

Published: 2 April 2013

Abstract

Background

The use of complementary and alternative medicines (CAM) and CAM practitioners is common, most frequently for the management of musculoskeletal conditions. Knowledge is limited about the use of CAM practitioners by older people, and specifically those with other long term or chronic conditions.

Methods

In 2011 we conducted an Australia wide survey targeting older adults aged over 50 years (n = 2540). Participants were asked to identify their chronic conditions, and from which health professionals they had ‘received advice or treatment from in the last 3 months’, including ‘complementary health practitioners, e.g. naturopath’. Descriptive analyses were undertaken using SPSS and STATA software.

Results

Overall, 8.8% of respondents reported seeing a CAM practitioner in the past three months, 12.1% of women and 3.9% of men; the vast majority also consulting medical practitioners in the same period. Respondents were more likely to report consulting a CAM practitioner if they had musculoskeletal conditions (osteoporosis, arthritis), pain, or depression/anxiety. Respondents with diabetes, hypertension and asthma were least likely to report consulting a CAM practitioner. Those over 80 reported lower use of CAM practitioners than younger respondents. CAM practitioner use in a general older population was not associated with the number of chronic conditions reported, or with the socio-economic level of residence of the respondent.

Conclusion

Substantial numbers of older Australians with chronic conditions seek advice from CAM practitioners, particularly those with pain related conditions, but less often with conditions where there are clear treatment guidelines using conventional medicine, such as with diabetes, hypertension and asthma. Given the policy emphasis on better coordination of care for people with chronic conditions, these findings point to the importance of communication and integration of health services and suggest that the concept of the ‘treating team’ needs a broad interpretation.

Keywords:
Complementary; Health practitioner; Self-manage; Chronic illness; Older