Healthy Aging and Alternative Medicine

Introduction

As one ages, the body undergoes a number of changes the effect one’s physical and mental well being. In recent years there has been considerable research demonstrating how changes in one’s lifestyle, such as regular exercise, maintaining a healthy diet, and social and cognitive engagement.

Added to this are newer medications that can effectively address medical conditions that previously may have dramatically reduced one’s quality of life. In this section you will find a variety of resources on diet, exercise, and a healthy lifestyle.

Resources

  • Health and Wellness for Seniors

NIH Senior Health is sponsored by the National Institutes of Health.This website offers users basic health and wellness information for older adults. This site contains a wealth of information on a variety of health topics as well as short videos, including:

  • Eating Well As You Get Older
  • Exercise and Physical Activity for Older Adults
  • Balance Problems
  • Depression
  • Sleep & Aging

This site also includes vast resources and information on a variety of health issues falling under the following categories:

  • Bones & Joints
  • Cancer
  • Diseases & Conditions
  • Heart & Lungs
  • Memory & Mental Health
  • Treatment & therapies
  • Vision & Hearing

NOTE: NIH Senior Health is a very rich source of information that should not be overlooked. This site also allows the option of an audio presentation of the information and the option to readily adjust the size of the on-screen fonts.

Exercises for Seniors is a section on MedlinePlus which is a service of the U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institute of Health. This site has a wide range of information on exercises for older adults including comprehensive downloadable booklets on exercises, overviews on exercises for seniors by the American Medical Association, American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, and the Journal of the American Medical Association. This site also includes information on the latest news on the value of exercise for older adults, alternative therapy such as Tai Chi, exercising with arthritis or osteoporosis, strength training for older adults, and journal articles related to exercise for older adults. Included on this site is a link to the National Institute on Aging’s Exercise and Physical  Health which is a 120 page step-by-step guide for exercise. This is an extremely informative and well written guide that includes illustrations of exercises and practical suggestions to remain active and engage in physical activity.

Web MD Healthy Aging Health Center provides an array of information on health and aging:

  • An interactive health risks check
  • Common treatments for healthy aging such as fiber, exercise, vitamins
  • A healthy aging guide addressing healthy body, mind & spirit, family & friends, health care, planning ahead, and support and resources
  • Healthy aging videos
  • A blog for talking with others about healthy aging
  • Healthy aging news

Mayo Clinic addresses the needs of individuals who or 50 years of age or older. This site contains a wide variety of information on nutrition, common health issues of older adults, multimedia presentations of topics of interest, and links to additional resources on healthy aging, including:

  • Sexual Health
  • Calorie Restricted Diet
  • Bruising
  • Weight Loss Strategies
  • Exercising with Osteoporosis
  • Arthritis Pain
  • Depression & Aging

The Mayo Clinic healthy aging site also includes multimedia presentations on the following:

  • Balancing Exercises
  • How to Choose a Cane
  • Vision Problems as you Age

Infoaging.org is a website presented by the American Federation for Aging Research. This site contains distinct pages on the topics below and presents both general information and recent research on the topics addressed.

For example, under the nutrition heading, one will find information on basic nutrition, research findings on how grape juice may enhance cognition, how blueberries increase one’s life span, and how soy and vegetables assist in metabolic repair. Topics that are addressed on this site include the following:

  • Nutrition
  • Exercise
  • Sleep
  • Alcohol
  • Smoking Cessation
  • Vision
  • Hearing
  • Oral Health
  • Immunizations

The National Institute on Aging has a number of informative booklets that can be downloaded free of charge. Click on any of the following titles to obtain a copy.

Aging Hearts & Arteries
Beware of Health Scams
Can Alzheimer’s Disease Be Prevented?
Can We Prevent Aging?
Dietary Supplements
Exercise & Physical Activity: Getting Fit for Life
Exercise & Physical Activity: Your Everyday Guide from The National Institute on Aging
Health and Aging Organizations (Directory)
Healthy Aging: Lessons from the BLSA
Healthy Eating After 50
NIA Publications Catalog
Older Adults and Alcohol (easy-to-read)
Participating in Activities You Enjoy-More Than Just Fun and Games
Shots For Safety
Talking with Your Doctor
There’s No Place Like Home — For Growing Old
Understanding Risk: What those headlines mean
Vacunas para su salud (Shots for Safety)
What’s Your Aging IQ?

Alternative Medicine

Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) are increasing in popularity in Western cultures; about 40% of the adult population report they have used alternative medicine at some point in their lives. Alternative medicine constitutes practices that are not commonly used in Western medicine. Examples include yoga, homeopathy, acupuncture, and chiropractor services.

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), a component of the National Institutes of Health, defines the key terms used in the field of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). Terms that are underlined in the text are defined at the end of this fact sheet.

CAM is a group of diverse medical and health care systems, practices, and products that are not generally considered to be part of conventional medicine.While scientific evidence exists regarding some CAM therapies, for most there are key questions that are yet to be answered through well-designed scientific studies—questions such as whether these therapies are safe and whether they work for the purposes for which they are used.

What is complementary medicine?

  • Complementary medicine is used together with conventional medicine. An example of a complementary therapy is using aromatherapy to help lessen a patient’s discomfort following surgery.
  • Alternative medicine is used in place of conventional medicine. An example of an alternative therapy is using a special diet to treat cancer instead of undergoing surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy that has been recommended by a conventional doctor.

What are the types of alternative medicine?

NCCAM groups CAM practices into four groups, recognizing there can be some overlap. In addition, NCCAM studies CAM whole medical systems, which cut across all groups.

Whole Medical Systems

Whole medical systems are built upon complete systems of theory and practice. Often, these systems have evolved apart from and earlier than the conventional medical approach used in the United States. Examples of whole medical systems that have developed in Western cultures include homeopathic medicine and naturopathic medicine. Examples of systems that have developed in non-Western cultures include traditional traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurveda.

Mind-Body Medicine

Mind-body medicine uses a variety of techniques designed to enhance the mind’s capacity to affect bodily function and symptoms. Some techniques that were considered CAM in the past have become mainstream (for example, patient support groups and cognitive-behavioral therapy). Other mind-body techniques are still considered CAM, including meditation, prayer, mental healing, and therapies that use creative outlets such as art, music, or dance.

Biologically Based Practices

Biologically based practices in CAM use substances found in nature, such as herbs, foods, and vitamins. Some examples include dietary supplements, herbal products, and the use of other so-called natural but as yet scientifically unproven therapies (for example, using shark cartilage to treat cancer).

Manipulative and Body-Based Practices

Manipulative and body-based practices in CAM are based on manipulation and/or movement of one or more parts of the body. Some examples include chiropractic osteopathic manipulation, and massage.

Energy Medicine

Energy therapies involve the use of energy fields. They are of two types:

  • Biofield therapies are intended to affect energy fields that purportedly surround and penetrate the human body. The existence of such fields has not yet been scientifically proven. Some forms of energy therapy manipulate biofields by applying pressure and/or manipulating the body by placing the hands in, or through, these fields. Examples include qi gong, Reiki, and Therapeutic Touch.
  • Bioelectromagnetic-based therapies involve the unconventional use of electromagnetic fields, such as pulsed fields, magnetic fields, or alternating-current or direct-current fields.

Checklist of Things To Consider If You Use Alternative or Complementary Medicine

Resources

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine has developed a rich and informative Web site listing a large number of complementary and alternative medicines. From the site’s index one can find detailed information on  a terrific Web site listing over one hundred mind-body medicines, biologically based practices, manipulative and body-based practices, or eergy medicines. For example, the link to yoga contains a brief description of yoga, links to research on the effects of yoga, an a rather descriptive page that serves as an introduction to yoga.

Paying for Complementary and Alternative Medicine is a Web page developed by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. This page contains information on the following:

  • How do people pay for Cam treatment?
  • What type of CAM coverage do employers offer?
  • What are important things to ask about your health insurance coverage before you seek CAM services?
  • Does your state have any laws about CAM coverage?
  • What can you do if your insurance company denied CAM services?

The New York Online Access to Health provides a rather extensive listing of Internet resources on the following topics:

(photos: Pewari Naan; designatednaphour)