Study highlights over 65s CAM use for depression

By staff reporter

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Mental health Medicine Depression

A study of older people's use of complementary and alternative
medicine (CAM) to manage anxiety or depression indicates that the
over 65s may represent a large potential market for makers of
supplements and non-vitamin natural products.

Supplement formulators are always eager to develop products to meet the needs of a certain sector of the population and the baby boom generation, now entering its senior years, represent and an important market.

Moreover, market analysts have identified mental health as one of the key areas of potential supplements.

When considering mental health in the context of the older generation, degenerative conditions such as Alzheimer's disease usually spring to mind.

But the 2002 National Health Interview Survey, which included 5827 adults aged 65 or over, found that 81.7 per cent of adults with self-reported anxiety or depression used CAM in the past year, compared to 64.6 per cent of non anxious or depressed people in the same category.

The definition of CAM was given as elevated use of spiritual practices (including prayer), relaxation techniques, and use of non-vitamin, non-mineral natural products by those with symptoms of mental conditions.

When prayer was taken out of the equation, 34.9 percent of those with anxiety or depression used CAM, compared to 26.5 percent of those without.

However researchers from Wake Forest University School of Medicine, who reported their findings in the current issue of the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine​, said they were surprised to find that many of the people with anxiety or depression were taking CAM for reasons other than mental health.

Part of the reason for this, said lead research Joseph Grzywacz, PhD, associate professor of family and community medicine at Wake Forest, may be that people over 65 believe depressive feelings are a natural part of aging and "may not view them as something requiring treatment"​.

If he is right, this could indicate a need to generate more awareness amongst the age group, or dialogue with health care practitioners who may recommend CAM - and should certainly be made aware of a patient's CAM use if in conjunction with conventional therapies.

The new survey also showed up no difference among race or ethnic groups in the use of CAM for poor mental health. This was surprising since, at the end of 2005, Grzywacz and his team reported on data showing that black and Native Americans make much greater use of home remedies than whites.

They said that the differences seemed to be based on culture rather than access to health care. It follows, then, that using CAM for mental health may be culturally less appropriate within some racial communities than in others.

A number of supplements have a history of use for alleviating anxiety or minor depression, including the herb St John's wort, green oat, and DHEA. Soy isoflavones have also been studied for their potential to elevate mood in post-menopausal women.

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