Complementary and alternative medicine use among elderly persons: one-year analysis of a Blue Shield Medicare supplement

J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2000 Jan;55(1):M4-9. doi: 10.1093/gerona/55.1.m4.


Background: Large scale surveys in the United States and abroad suggest that 35-60% of adults have used some form of complementary/alternative medicine (CAM). However, no studies to date have focused on predictors and patterns of CAM use among elderly persons.

Methods: The population surveyed were Californians enrolled in a Medicare risk product that offers coverage for acupuncture and chiropractic care. Surveys were mailed to 1597 members in 1997 and responses received by 728 (51% response rate). Health risk assessment data were also obtained at baseline and 12-15 months following enrollment in the plan. Multiple logistic regression analyses were carried out to examine predictors of CAM use.

Results: Forty-one percent of seniors reported use of CAM. Herbs (24%), chiropractic (20%), massage (15%), and acupuncture (14%) were the most frequently cited therapies. CAM users tended to be younger, more educated, report either arthritis and/or depression/anxiety, not be hypertensive, engage in exercise, practice meditation, and make more frequent physician visits. Use of CAM was not associated with any observed changes in health status. Respondents also expressed considerable interest in receiving third-party coverage for CAM. Although 80% reported that they had received substantial benefit from their use of CAM, the majority (58%) did not discuss the use of these therapies with their medical doctor.

Conclusions: Findings suggest that there is significant interest in and use of complementary/alternative medicine among elderly persons. These results suggest the importance of further research into the use and potential efficacy of these therapies within the senior population.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • California
  • Complementary Therapies / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Health Status
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Medicare
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United States