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Complementary and Alternative Medicine: What People 50 and Older Are Using and Discussing with Their Physicians

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Do Americans age 50 and older talk with their physicians about their use of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) — diverse medical and health care systems, practices, and products not presently considered part of conventional medicine including herbal supplements, meditation, chiropractic, and acupuncture?

In the spring of 2006, AARP and the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) at the National Institutes of Health partnered to measure CAM use among older Americans and to understand communication practices between patients and their physicians. They found that people between the ages of 50 and 59 are the most likely to report CAM use.

While 63 percent of the 1,559 age 50+ individuals surveyed have used one or more CAM therapies, 69 percent of those who reported using CAM had not discussed it with a physician because the physician never asked (42%), they did not know they should (30%), or there was not enough time during the office visit (19%). Additional barriers include patient perceptions that physicians are unwilling to discuss CAM therapies or will react negatively to disclosure of CAM use.

The telephone survey was conducted by ICR, an independent research company, from April 26th to May 7th, 2006. Further information about the study may be obtained by contacting Helen Brown at 202-434-6172. (21 pages)

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