Alternative Medicine Treatments for Seniors

Updated 7/29/15 11:21am | Many Alert1 members are curious about alternative senior healthcare options. Though the potential health benefits of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) treatments aren't definitive. A handful of studies have shown that CAM therapies such as meditation, herbal remedies, lifestyle counseling, and art therapy can yield positive results. These methods show impressive results when treating everything from the fatigue felt by cancer patients to the chronic pain of arthritis. “Complementary medicine” refers to the use of CAM together with conventional medicine, such as using acupuncture in addition to usual care to help lessen pain. “Alternative medicine” refers to the use of CAM in place of conventional health care. Most of CAM treatments for Americans are used together with traditional treatment of diseases.

Finding an Approved Care Practitioner

Before you select an alternative care practitioner, find out about his or her training and experience. You can do research online to find reviews or determine if they’ve effectively cured people with your health condition. We also recommend you ask a physician for a referral to a complimentary practitioner. This ensures that your primary care physician and the alternative treatment can update one another on the progression of your recovery. For tips on pursuing CAM and talking to your health care provider, check out NCCAM's Time to Talk campaign.

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Alternative Care Avenues and Options

If you or a loved one is considering pursuing alternative treatment such as acupuncture, be sure to consult with your health care provider first. Make sure he or she has the full picture of how you plan to manage your health. Many of the questions you should ask are similar to the ones you would ask in the case of any new treatment. You will need to inquire about the risks and decide whether or not they are outweighed by the benefits. You should also discuss whether or not the complementary treatment would interfere with any of your ongoing traditional therapy, medication regimen, or supplements. 

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Alternative Care on a Senior Budget

Complementary and alternative treatments are specialized practices. Alternative therapy can be a bit more costly than you might think. These health services often are more often paid out of pocket. When paying out of pocket, you’ll want to research treatment providers that work with you on long-term payment plans. Alternatively, you can find out if your treatment is covered by your insurance.  If your primary care physician submits a referral to an alternative care practitioner, your health insurance may subsidize some of the costs. If approved by your insurance provider, be sure to ask how many visits you’re entitled to and if there are any deductibles. More common types of alternative medicine covered by insurance include acupuncture, chiropractic, massage, naturopathy, and biofeedback.

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An Example of Senior Wellness and Alternative Care

One of my friends is the caregiver for her elderly mother who has senior osteoarthritis. Sometimes the osteoarthritis makes it difficult for her mother to perform tasks that she used to do with ease on a regular basis. The pain was threatening her mother’s independent living, so my friend decided to see if acupuncture could help alleviate some of her mother’s discomfort. Acupuncture involves the insertion of very fine needles through the skin into pressure points of the body. These needles stimulate nerves, muscles, and connective tissue. Acupuncture is thought to rebalance the flow of energy throughout the body and, therefore, help relieve pain. Although her mother is by no means pain free, there has been a noticeable improvement in her mother’s condition since undergoing regular acupuncture.

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Whether your loved one is dealing with osteoarthritis or fatigue from cancer treatments, an alternative therapy used to complement their current regimen may help. Alert1 wants to know: have you considered using CAM before? If so, have they worked out?