• complementary therapies;
  • nurse;
  • nursing home;
  • nursing home care;
  • older people

Aims.  The aim of the study was to explore the need for and application of Chinese medicine services and factors which impact on the accessibility of Chinese medicine among the institutionalised older people.

Background.  Although complementary and alternative medicine is widely used by older Chinese both in Hong Kong and elsewhere, little is known about its use by the institutionalised older people. This study breaks new ground by exploring how Chinese medicine, the most popular form of complementary and alternative medicine used by older people, is used and accessed by the institutionalised older people in Hong Kong.

Design.  Qualitative method.

Methods.  Semi-structured interviews were conducted in 2007 with 18 older individuals aged between 63–93 and living in three long-term care facilities in Hong Kong.

Results.  Three main categories emerged from the data: (1) the role of Chinese medicine in the care of the aged; (2) barriers to the use of Chinese medicine in residences; and (3) factors facilitating the accessibility of Chinese medicine services in residences. Most of the older individuals interviewed claimed that Chinese medicine played a crucial role in their self-health management. The availability of Chinese medicine depended crucially on the support of the health care system, individual institutions and nursing staff.

Conclusions.  The value of Chinese medicine in the care of the institutionalised older people was highlighted. Chinese medicine as a complement to western medicine was perceived as an important component of self-health management. Attitudes towards the use of Chinese medicine in nursing homes therefore need to be reviewed and developed further in accordance with the health strategy policy.

Relevance to clinical practice.  This research focuses on the role of complementary and alternative medicine in health care for the institutionalised older people. It provides health practitioners, researchers and policy makers with an additional perspective in the provision of quality client-centred care for older people living in long-term care.