Wake Forest Research Team to Study Alternative Medicine Use among Older Adults

February 12, 2007

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – About 250 older adults in Scotland and Hoke Counties will be contacted soon and asked about how they manage their health by using complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). The interviews will be part of a research project by Wake Forest University School of Medicine aimed at understanding the use of these products and services and their relationship with the use of conventional health care.

The information will be collected in participants’ homes by interviewers who will be trained by the Wake Forest research team. The study will involve black and white adults who are 65 and older.

The use of CAM is growing in popularity in the United States. In 2002, about two-thirds of adults reported using some form of CAM to manage their health. An estimated $50 billion dollars are spent on CAM therapies each year in the United States. Some research suggests that CAM use is more common in the rural South, and among older adults.

“Given the widespread use of CAM for health self-management, it’s important to understand the reasons why people begin using these therapies, and how this influences other health care decisions,” said Tom Arcury, Ph.D., professor and research director in the Department of Family and Community Medicine at Wake Forest, who heads the research team.

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, which funded this four-year study, recognizes five forms of CAM therapies: (1) Alternative Medical Systems, including homeopathic medicine and naturopathic medicine; (2) Mind-Body Interventions, such as prayer, meditation and support groups; (3) Biologically Based Therapies, such as herbs, foods, and vitamins; (4) Manipulative and Body-Based Methods, such as chiropractic and massage; and (5) Energy Therapies, such as qi gong, Reiki and therapeutic touch.

“By far, the most common form of CAM use among older rural adults is prayer, but other therapies, such as herbs and home remedies, are also frequently used,” said Arcury.

Assisting in the study are Ronny Bell, Ph.D., Joseph Grzywacz, Ph.D., Sara Quandt, Ph.D., Joel Williams, Ph.D., and Wei Lang, Ph.D., all from Wake Forest and Eleanor Stoller, Ph.D., a consultant. The research team has a long history of rural health research, and has conducted research in eastern North Carolina on nutrition, diabetes and oral health over the past 10 years.

“We have enjoyed our work in eastern North Carolina, and look forward to working in Scotland and Hoke Counties,” said Arcury.


Media Contacts: Karen Richardson, krchrdsn@wfubmc.edu, or Shannon Koontz, shkoontz@wfubmc.edu, 336-716-4587.

Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center is an academic health system comprised of North Carolina Baptist Hospital and Wake Forest University Health Sciences, which operates the university’s School of Medicine. The system comprises 1,187 acute care, psychiatric, rehabilitation and long-term care beds and is consistently ranked as one of “America’s Best Hospitals” by U.S. News & World Report.

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