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Herbal Medicine: Use Among the Elderly

Herbal Medicine: How often is it used by the elderly?

herbal medicineHerbal medicines are becoming used more frequently among the elderly. Recent surveys report that about 8% of people aged 65 and older have used herbal medicines in the past year. Almost 3 million people age 65 and older used herbal therapies in 1997, with 2 million taking both herbal medicines and prescription medication. However, about 57% of those aged 65 and older did not disclose the use of any alternative medicine to their doctor. There is a very limited amount of scientific data on herbal medicine use in the United States; as a result, those wishing to obtain factual information regarding the therapeutic use or potential harm of herbal medicine have to obtain it from books and pamphlets, most of which base the provided on reputation, rather than relying on existing scientific research.


Do patients using herbal medicines avoid conventional treatments?

Although patients who use herbal medicines may be more likely than those who do not, to avoid seeking conventional diagnosis and therapy, the majority of users of alternative medicine are not rejecting medicine or abandoning traditional medical care. In fact, consumers of complementary and alternative medicine among those aged 65 and older, are also more likely to be frequent users of conventional medical care. Studies have found that the more visits patients make to a medical doctors, the more likely they are to use herbal medicine and also visit providers of alternative medicine. Patients who use herbal therapies are often more self-directed in their care. The use of herbal medicine is thought to be most prevalent among the young, affluent, and educated populations. Herbal therapies are most often taken for conditions that are chronic, have a fluctuating course, and have no definitive treatment, and as an attempt to self-treat psychiatric symptoms of depression, anxiety, and insomnia.

Why do people usually take herbal medicines?

People taking herbal medicines usually give many of the same reasons for their consumption. They frequently state that they are “natural” and, hence, safe, to self-medicate. Also, they are usually cheaper than conventional medications. Many also conclude that traditional medical care is “too technical, impersonal, and expensive“. Some surveys have revealed that patients who use herbal medicines most often do so for chronic conditions for which they have already seen their conventional physician. However, some patients have been noted to use herbal medicines before or instead of conventional therapy. A thorough evaluation, which includes questions about undiagnosed disorders causing symptoms that may lead to self-medication with herbal medicines is always recommended by any physician or mental health clinician.

By Paul Susic MA Licensed Psychologist Ph.D Candidate (Health Psychology)

Information from Herbals and Botanicals by Abhilash K. Desai M.D. & George Grossberg M.D.

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