New Study Finds One in Five Seniors Using Alternative Medicine

ORLANDO, Fla., Feb. 25 /PRNewswire/ -- The first study looking at alternative medicine use among elderly people with depression and/or dementia finds almost 20 percent are using ginkgo biloba, ginseng, St. John's wort and other herbal remedies. The surprising findings could cause concern with physicians who treat the elderly as most patients were unaware of the risks of potential drug interactions.

"The results merit further study and suggest that seniors may have entered the alternative medicine market in a big way, much bigger than we thought," said Helen C. Kales, M.D., principal researcher from the University of Michigan, who released the new study today at the American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry's (AAGP) annual meeting here. "What's alarming is that so many patients in our study felt these preparations were harmless, even though they were not certain what they contained."

Dr. Kales said the majority of patients did not discuss the use of alternative medicine with their physicians, but felt safe taking them because they considered the remedies "natural."

Of the patients using alternative medicine, the study finds 33.3 percent use ginkgo biloba, 26.7 percent take St. John's wort, 6.7 percent use ginseng, and 20 percent take other herbal preparations ranging from ginger root to GH3.

Depression and dementia are the most common forms of mental illness among the elderly. Depression affects 15 out of every 100 adults over age 65 in the U.S. Alzheimer's Disease (AD) is the most common cause of dementia in older people. Nearly 10 percent of all people over age 65 and up to half of those over age 85 are thought to have AD or another form of dementia.

The study also finds alternative medicine use by 16 percent of the patients' caregivers, most of whom were elderly spouses. The use of alternative medicine in the general public has been found at 14 percent (Kaufman et al 2002 JAMA, US telephone population survey).

The study recorded alternative medicine use among 82 elderly veterans with depression and/or dementia and 56 of their caregivers. In the case of patients with cognitive impairment, caregivers gave corroborative information regarding use of alternative medicine as well as other medications.

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