Generational differences in complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) use in the context of chronic diseases and pain: baby boomers versus the silent generation

J Am Board Fam Med. Jul-Aug 2014;27(4):465-73. doi: 10.3122/jabfm.2014.04.130238.


Background: More people are supplementing conventional medicine with complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), but studies have not compared CAM use between baby boomers (adults born from 1946 to 1964) and the so-called silent generation (born from 1925 to 1945).

Methods: This study compares CAM usage between baby boomers (n = 7734) and the silent generation (n = 4682) through secondary analyses of the 2007 National Health Interview Survey data. The analysis also compares chronic disease and pain status. Multivariate logistic regression models were developed to identify generational differences.

Results: Although the silent generation reported twice as many chronic disease (51.3% vs 26.1%; P < .001) and more painful conditions (56.1% vs 52.2%; P < .001), baby boomers were more likely to use CAM within the past year (43.1% vs 35.4%; P < .001). Adjusting for covariates, baby boomers with heart disease, cancer, and diabetes were more likely to use CAM than adults from the silent generation. Chronic pain status was independently associated with greater CAM use (adjusted odds ratio, 2.26; 95% confidence interval, 2.03-2.52).

Conclusions: Baby boomers reported significantly higher rates of CAM use than the silent generation for both chronic diseases and painful conditions. Family physicians caring for the aging population must use patient-centered communication about the risks/benefits of CAM, which is necessary to promote effective coping with chronic illnesses and pain.

Keywords: Aging; Alternative Medicine; Chronic Disease; Epidemiology; Pain.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Chronic Disease / therapy*
  • Complementary Therapies / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pain Management*