According to a recent study conducted at Ohio State University, about 70 percent of the 50+ market uses alternative medicine. Funded by the National Institute on Aging, Professor Gong-Soog Hong conducted a survey that included nearly 900 participants aged 50 and older. Sixty-five percent of seniors who were in poor health said they used some form of alternative medicine that they viewed as either curative or preventive — a higher percentage than any other group.
Baby boomers are looking for other ways to relieve symptoms like chronic pain and arthritis, using alternative therapies as preventative medicine. Chiropractic topped the list with a whopping 43% of respondents, while acupuncture came last.
Last fall, another survey of baby boomers was conducted by Sorelli B, a national research firm. This particular study showed that more than a third of respondents said chiropractic care eliminates the need for prescription medication and physical therapy. Respondents also believed chiropractic care helped them avoid back surgery and long, grueling hospital stays. Nearly 60 percent of those surveyed said they would be willing to apply to their insurance companies to include chiropractic care as part of their healthcare plan, even though they would be willing to pay for these services out of pocket.
The other most popular methods of alternative medicine are massage therapy, breathing exercises, herbal medicine and meditation.
The first study to look at the use of alternative medicine in seniors with depression finds that nearly 20 percent use gingko biloba, ginseng, St. John’s wort and other herbal remedies. The surprising results could be a concern for doctors treating baby boomers, since most patients were unaware of the risks of potential drug interactions.
Helen Kale, MD, of the University of Michigan, says, “The results deserve further investigation and suggest that seniors may have entered the alternative medicine market on a large scale, much larger than we thought.”
Why alternative medicine? Older adults are looking for a different type of treatment to ease the pain that often accompanies aging. Seniors report problems with everyday activities such as carrying groceries, eating, or bathing. In addition, many of them are simply not satisfied with universal health care and often struggle with the current state of conventional health care. “Older adults tend to have more chronic diseases, and conventional medicine doesn’t always solve their problems,” Hong says.
In addition, because managing chronic pain is very difficult and demanding, the survey showed that people living with such pain will do whatever it takes to relieve it.
According to the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA), the percentage of people over the age of 50 who have received a massage from a massage therapist has nearly tripled in the past five years. Why do baby boomers get massages? According to the survey for health reasons. Seniors even reported that they seek massage for health reasons (besides stress relief and relaxation) more than any other age group (41 percent).
Acupuncture, the least common alternative medicine practice in the United States in the 1970s, has emerged as an alternative to traditional Western medicine for pain relief and the treatment of a variety of other health conditions. Studies show that baby boomers suffering from muscle and bone pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, and other problems seek acupuncture to relieve their symptoms.
The health-conscious baby boomer generation is also on the move. Being physically active is the solution to maintaining quality of life for adults 50 and older. 16 million seniors exercise at least three times a week. From 1987 to 1995, gym membership over 50 increased by 199% and gym membership over 65 increased by a staggering 669%. According to the International Council on Active Aging (ICAA), most active adult communities are responding to this need by incorporating wellness centers into their planned communities. In addition, age-specific programs have proven very popular, with tremendous benefits for other types of senior housing, fitness facilities, and publicly funded recreational programs in the community.
Interestingly, day spas are quickly becoming a hot market for the over-50s. Instead of the usual day spa offerings of facials and waxing, Medical Spas or MedSpas are now appearing in the market. MedSpas offer the comfort and care of day spas but add the latest in medical technology. Mud packs and cucumber slices have been replaced by high-tech advanced fluorescence technology, microdermabrasion and ultrasonic technologies – all designed to help the over-50 market feel better about their looks.
Even if alternative medicine plays a major role in the lives of baby boomers, it cannot be compared to preventive measures when it comes to health. The Southeastern Institute of Research found that the 50+ market says some of the most important things you need to do to stay healthy are getting enough sleep, drinking plenty of water, and staying balanced feed. No wonder life expectancy has increased by 30 years over the past century.
As health care costs continue to rise, baby boomers will continue to seek alternative medicine and transform themselves into “health boomers.” They defined healthcare because they are strong, vocal, and they know what they want. Boomers are healthier than any generation of seniors in history and are living longer and happier.
Thanks to C.W. Reichert