Study objectives: To determine the types and prevalence of herbal medicines used by Hispanic and non-Hispanic white individuals aged 65 years and older. Secondary objectives were to compare herbal medicine use according to ethnicity, sex, age, socioeconomic status, and education level, and to determine patients' beliefs about herbal medicines. Use of nonphysician health care providers such as acupuncturists and chiropractors also was assessed.
Methods: Data for a cross-sectional, interviewer-administered survey were collected at the University of New Mexico Senior Health Center, an ambulatory health care clinic, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, from February 1996-January 1997. To participate in the study, patients had to be at least 65 years of age, established patients at the clinic, and live independently in a community dwelling. They were excluded if they had dementia, lived in an institution, or belonged to any ethnic group other than Hispanic or non-Hispanic white. Ethnicity was determined by asking the patients in which ethnic group they identified themselves.
Results: A total of 186 patients were surveyed: 84 Hispanic (34 men, 50 women) and 102 non-Hispanic white (47 men, 55 women). Of the 186 patients, 91 (49%) admitted to having taken herbal medicines in the previous year. The most common were spearmint, chamomile, aloe vera, garlic, brook-mint, osha, lavender, ginger, ginseng, and camphor. Most of the patients who used herbal medicines were 65-74 years of age and took them primarily for health care maintenance or self-perceived problems.
Conclusion: As approximately half of the elderly patients stated that they used herbal medicines, health care providers should be knowledgeable about herbal remedies and provide reliable information to their patients about them in a nonjudgmental manner.