Older Americans Not Discussing CAM with Docs

Many Americans age 50 and over are not discussing the use of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) with their physicians, according to a recent survey from AARP and the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM).

It’s not that the older population doesn’t use CAM. Fifty-three percent of the 1,013 people surveyed revealed they had used CAM at some point in their lifetime. Of those, only 58 percent said they had mentioned it to a health care provider. This is of concern because some CAM products can interact with other medicines.

In a press release, NCCAM director Dr. Josephine P. Briggs said:

“In this survey, we found that 37 percent of respondents have used an herbal product or dietary supplement in the past 12 months. Some of these natural products can interact with conventional treatments. As we’ve learned from NCCAM-funded research into herbal and dietary supplements, natural does not always mean safe. Thus, an open dialogue about CAM use, particularly herbals and dietary supplements, is vital to ensuring safe and coordinated care.”

Interestingly, the survey also found that when CAM is discussed at all, it is the patient, rather than the health care provider, who is more likely to initiate the conversation. Forty-two percent of respondents said their doctors don’t ask about CAM, and 30 percent didn’t realize it was something they should mention to their doctor.

Elinor Ginzler, vice president of AARP, said in a press release:

“Older Americans want to lead healthy, active lives, and that means using health care safely. For many people, CAM is an important part of staying healthy, but some CAM products may make conventional medicines less effective or lead to potentially dangerous interactions. Health care providers and patients need to start talking together to ensure you get the full benefit of both CAM and your medications.”

The same advice would apply to younger patients, and it seems that both patients and their doctors need to be more open about use of CAM.

Source: National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine

Related: 5 Ways to Partner with your Doctor

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Ann Pietrangelo is the author of “No More Secs! Living, Laughing & Loving Despite Multiple Sclerosis,” a memoir. She is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors and The Author’s Guild, and a regular contributor to Care2 Healthy & Green Living and Care2 Causes. Follow on Twitter @AnnPietrangelo


William C
William C1 years ago


W. C
W. C1 years ago

Thank you.

Sandra L.
Sandra L.7 years ago

I do not mention my use of alternative medicines and procedures to my allopathic doctor. I have no plans to do so, as most are strongly against alternative practices. In fact, lots of them are advocates to outlaw alternative medicines. I seldom take pharmaceutical products, as my health has remained good through practicing prevention. This is my choice and my right.

Carol Smith
Carol Smith7 years ago

Hi. Am interested in alternatives to conventional medicine today and the pharmaceutical house dope circulating around the globe and onto the streets as well. While they are a new breed, I have heard of naturopathic doctors, or ND's. And a fancier lone degree in NYC. To date. While herbs, etc. are not pure and refined, perhaps the impurities dilute them and vice versa, and they do less harm? Unless, of course, they conflict with the CONVENTIONAL stuff from the pharmaceutical sources. Nice and pure and potent. And, maybe, TOO potent? When you get used to one high jolt, do you not take even more? Even for a headache? Going from plain old aspirin once upon a time, thru all the NSAIDs on the shelves, and into scripts beginning with vicodin (tylenol plus a narcotic), etc. Perhaps natural sources and far lower doses to start with, leaving plenty of room for this effect, aren't the worst idea. And there is more than one herb, etc. to remedy whatever, and you can be smart and alternate them, sometimes, and HOLD THE DOSE DOWN. Wish we had a horde of ND's in the WHOLE U.S. and some were not quacks. I'd like a good one in Canton, Ohio, myself.

Sumit jamadar
Sumit jamadar7 years ago


Eternal Gardener
Eternal Gardener7 years ago

You don't learn an old dog new tricks!

Camila K.
Kamila A8 years ago

I don't go to doctors who don't support my CAM's.

Wioletta Spisz
Wioletta S8 years ago

Thanks for sharing:)

Carole B.
Carole B8 years ago

I told my new doctor I tried acupunture for a breathing problem. She asked if it helped. I think she was a little surprised but didn't diss the practice.

We can find out much about CAM through our own research. I feel ok about being the one to educate my MD about other practices and herbs. It could be that the MDs don't think we might be open to CAM too.

Diane L.
Diane L8 years ago

Bryon made some excellent points. I've got my own theories as to why so many older people don't discuss them with their physicians, and the writer is right on in one respect. I have switched PCP's twice in the last couple of years........the one I'd had "before" was annoying and rude. I switched and the "new" one was female, probably competent, but in my opinion, very scattter-brained and forgot to call in re-fills, asked about my "conditions" everytime I went in, and confused me with other patients, so again, time for a different doctor! The one I have is very conservative, and while I did mention the OTC herbal remedies and supplements I take, I was the one who initiated the discussion. My concerns were from possible "inter-actions" with prescriptions, mainly. For example, I take supplemental calcium and he'd suggested I take "meds" to lower my BP. One said it could possibly have a reaction to calcium, so I asked.

Many doctors "scoff" at OTC supplements and herbal remedies, so sometimes we get flat out annoyed at that. Personally, I do a ton of online research before trying anything. I may know MORE than my doctor about some of the things I take. I don't need a lecture from him, either. If I have a concern, I'll ask and get his "input" and then go from there. He has yet to talk me into getting a flu shot and it annoys him. (BTW, I'm 69).