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Survey Shows Older Adults Commonly Use CAM but Rarely Discuss with Doctors

The results of a survey released in January 2007 indicate that 63% of US residents aged 50 or older use complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) therapies and that 77% of older adults do not discuss their CAM use with doctors.1

The telephone survey was conducted between April 26 and May 7 of 2006 by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), a nonprofit organization for people 50 and over, and the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Responses were obtained from 1,559 people aged 50 and older. The CAM therapy reportedly used by the most respondents (45%) was bodywork, which includes massage therapy and chiropractic care. The second most popular CAM therapy, reportedly used by 42% of respondents, was herbal products and dietary supplements. Respondents were not asked to specify the types of herbal products or dietary supplements that they have used or how frequently they have employed such products. Other CAM therapies reportedly used by respondents were mind/body practices (15%); naturopathy, acupuncture, or homeopathy (14%); energy therapies (10%); and other forms of CAM (2%).

Only 22% of respondents claimed to have discussed their CAM use with a physician. Reasons given for not discussing CAM use included doctors not asking about such therapies (42%), patients not realizing that they should discuss their CAM use with a doctor (30%), patients not having enough time to broach the subject during an office visit (19%), patients assuming that doctors wouldn’t know about the topic (17%), and patients thinking that doctors would be dismissive (12%).

The authors of the report conclude that greater communication between older patients and their doctors is needed in regards to CAM use, particularly since nearly 60% of respondents claimed that they were also currently using prescription drugs. According to the report: “Patients need to mention CAM use to their physicians and physicians need to ask about it—especially given that less than half of respondents who said they had not discussed CAM with their physicians would be comfortable doing so. The lack of this dialogue points to a need to educate both consumers and health care providers about the importance of discussing the use of CAM, how to begin the dialogue, and the implications of not doing so.”


1. AARP, NCCAM. What People 50 and Older are Using and Discussing with their Physicians. Washington DC: AARP; 2007.