National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM)

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Complementary and Alternative Medicine: What People Aged 50 and Older Discuss With Their Health Care Providers

Discussion and Conclusions

Half of people aged 50 and older surveyed reported using complementary and alternative medicine. Over a third take some type of herbal product or dietary supplement. Over three-fourths take one or more prescription medications. Using herbal products and supplements in conjunction with certain prescription medications may cause interactions, yet only a third of all respondents and a little over half of CAM users said they have ever discussed CAM with their health care providers.

Photo of patient with health care provider

When respondents do talk with their providers about CAM, twice as many respondents say they, not the practitioner, initiated the conversation. If respondents have not had that conversation, it is most often because their health care provider did not ask or they did not know it was something they should discuss. The fact that respondents are the primary initiators of a discussion about CAM or are not talking to their health care providers about CAM because they are not asked or do not know they should discuss it remains largely unchanged from 2006. Thus, the need continues to educate consumers and health care providers about the importance of this dialogue and provide tools and strategies to facilitate this conversation.

Considered together, these data indicate that people aged 50 and older may be missing an opportunity to improve their health care by ensuring that all of their providers have a full picture of the ways in which they seek to improve their health. And, while CAM users who also take prescription medications were more likely to report that they had discussed CAM with a health care provider, other respondents may unknowingly put their health at risk by not discussing CAM use with their health care providers. Clearly, providers need to ask about CAM use at every patient visit, and people aged 50 and older need to know that CAM use is something that is important to discuss with their conventional medical providers.

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