According to a recent study conducted at Ohio State University, approximately 70 percent of the 50 Plus market uses alternative medicine. Funded by the National Institute on Aging, Professor Gong-Soog Hong led a survey of nearly 900 participants aged 50 and over. 65 percent of seniors who said they were in poor health said they used some form of alternative medicine they considered curative or preventative — a higher percentage than any other group.
Baby boomers are looking for other ways to relieve symptoms such as chronic pain and arthritis, and are using alternative therapies as preventive medicine. Chiropractic care topped the list with a whopping 43% of respondents, while acupuncture came in last.
Last fall, another study of baby boomers was conducted by Sorelli B, a national research firm. This particular survey found that more than a third of those surveyed said chiropractic care obviated the need for prescription drugs and physical therapy. Respondents also believed chiropractic care helped them avoid back surgeries and long, grueling hospital stays. Nearly 60 percent of those surveyed said they would be willing to ask their insurance companies to include chiropractic as part of their health care plan, even if they were willing to pay for those services out of pocket.
The other most popular methods of alternative medicine are massage therapy, breathing exercises, herbal medicine and meditation.
The first survey of alternative medicine use among seniors with depression shows that nearly 20 percent use gingko biloba, ginseng, St. John’s wort, and other herbal remedies. The surprising findings may be of concern to doctors treating baby boomers, as 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 have entered the alternative medicine market in a big way, much bigger than we thought.”
Why Alternative Medicine? Older adults are looking for different types of treatments to help ease the aches and pains that often come with age. Seniors report problems with daily activities such as shopping, eating or bathing. In addition, many of them are simply not satisfied with regular health care and often have problems with the current state of regular health care. “Older adults tend to have more chronic diseases and conventional medicine doesn’t always solve their problems,” says Hong.
In addition, the research showed that because the treatment of chronic pain is very difficult and demanding, people living with such pain will try everything possible to alleviate it.
According to the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA), the percentage of people over 50 who have received a massage from a massage therapist has nearly tripled in the past five years. Why do baby boomers get massage? According to the survey for health reasons. In fact, seniors reported seeking massage for health reasons (other than stress relief and relaxation) more than any other age group (41 percent).
Acupuncture, the least popular practice of alternative medicine, emerged in the US in the 1970s. Acupuncture has gained acceptance as an alternative to traditional Western medicine for pain relief and for the treatment of a variety of other health problems. Studies show that baby boomers suffering from muscle and bone pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, and other issues are trying acupuncture to help ease their symptoms.
The health-conscious baby boom generation is also exercising. Being physically active is the solution to maintain the quality of life of adults aged 50 and older. 16 million seniors exercise at least three times a week. From 1987 to 1995, the number of over-50s joining health clubs increased by 199%, and the number of over-65s joining health clubs increased by a whopping 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-appropriate programs have been shown to be quite popular and offer tremendous benefits to other types of senior housing, fitness facilities, and government-sponsored community recreation programs.
Interestingly enough, day spas are quickly becoming a popular market for people 50 and older. Instead of the usual daily spa fare of facials and waxing, medical spas or MedSpas are now popping up on the market. MedSpas offer all the comfort and care of day spas, but add the latest medical technology. Mud packs and cucumber slices have been replaced with high-tech advanced fluorescence technology, microdermabrasion and ultrasound technologies – all designed to help the over-50s feel better about their appearance.
While alternative medicine plays a major role in the lives of baby boomers, when it comes to health there is no comparison with preventive measures. The Southeastern Institute of Research found that the over-50s say some of the most important things you can do to stay healthy are getting enough sleep, drinking plenty of water, and eating a balanced diet. No wonder life expectancy has increased by 30 years in the past century.
As health care costs continue to rise, baby boomers will continue to seek alternative medicine and morph into “health boomers.” They have defined healthcare because they are strong and vocal and they know what they want. Boomers are healthier than any generation of seniors in history and live longer and happier lives.