Objectives: To describe the use of orally ingested alternative therapies (OAT) by a community-dwelling, primarily African-American sample of elders.
Design: Face-to-face survey.
Setting: University-affiliated geriatric medicine primary care clinic.
Participants: One hundred two elderly OAT users and 100 nonusers who had an appointment between June and August 2000.
Measurements: Demographic characteristics, OAT products used, reasons for use, and influencing factors leading to use.
Results: Two hundred ninety-two subjects were screened: 102 (35%) OAT users, 100 (34%) nonusers, and 90 (31%) who refused to participate. The OAT users were 78% female and 67% African American, with a mean age±standard deviation of 79.7±6.2. They were a frail group, with an average of 5.2±2.3 medical conditions, 4.5±2.3 medications, and 52% with at least one impairment in activities of daily living. Nonusers had more documented medical conditions and medications and a lower median household income. The most popular OAT products were multivitamins (65%), vitamin E (42%), and calcium (31%). Ninety-seven percent of users reported concurrent OAT and prescription medication use. The patients took OATs to supplement their diet (23%) and stay well (15%), as well as for various medical conditions. Influencing factors for OAT use were media advertisements (37%), physicians' advice (36%), and immediate family members (19%). Sixty percent of elders discussed their OAT use with their physicians
Conclusion: Community-dwelling, primarily African-American, elders are using OATs despite physical frailty and limited financial resources. OAT users are healthier and wealthier than nonusers. More subjects used concurrent OAT and prescription medications and discussed their use with their physicians than would be expected from the literature. A large national survey of OAT use by minority elders could explore these findings.