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Audio Interview About AARP/NCCAM Survey on NIH Radio

Complementary and alternative medicine dialogue lacking between patients, providers

2.1 MB

A new survey from NCCAM and AARP finds that although many people 50 and older use complementary and alternative medicine they often do not inform their health care providers.


Balintfy: A recent survey looks at the use of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) in people 50 and older.

Briggs: And the very important question of whether they talk to their health care providers.

Balintfy: Dr. Josephine Briggs is the Director of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. She says this is the second time NCCAM and AARP have cosponsored the survey which now shows more than half of Americans over the age of 50 have used CAM at some point in their lives.

Briggs: Like the rest of Americans, people 50 and over are using complementary and alternative medicine. But the important take-home lesson of this study is that they're not consistently talking to healthcare providers about those alternative health practices.

Balintfy: CAM is a group of diverse medical and health care interventions, practices, products, or disciplines that are not generally considered part of conventional medicine. CAM includes natural products such as herbal supplements, and manual therapies and mind/body practices such as chiropractic care, massage, acupuncture, and meditation. Dr. Briggs says NCCAM-funded research into herbal and dietary supplements has shown that natural does not always mean safe. Also because older Americans do use prescriptions more than younger people:

Briggs: We are concerned that sometimes there may be interactions between dietary supplements and the prescription drugs so that's one reason to talk to health care providers. Another is that the use of manipulative therapies — massage, mind/body approaches to health — give the healthcare provider a full picture of what a person is doing to promote their health.

Balintfy: Dr. Birggs stresses the importance of a dialogue.

Briggs: We think it's important to ask and tell.

Balintfy: Meaning both healthcare providers and patients should discuss CAM use. The survey shows only one-third of older Americans discussed their CAM use, two-thirds did not. In the survey, the most frequently cited reasons for using CAM include general wellness, to help reduce pain or treat a painful condition, and to treat a specific health condition. For more information on this survey and CAM, visit This is Joe Balintfy, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland.

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This page last modified September 24, 2017