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Complementary and alternative medicine use among older Australian women – a qualitative analysis

from study authors Dierdre McLaughlinChi-Wai and LuiJon Adams

The use of complementary and alternative medicines (CAM) among older adults is an emerging health issue, however little is known about older people’s experiences of using CAM and the cultural, geographical and other determinants of CAM use in this population. This study used qualitative methods to explore older women’s views of CAM and reasons for their use of CAM.

Participants for the project were drawn from the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health (ALSWH) 1921-1926 birth cohort. Women who responded positively to a question about CAM use in Survey 5 (2008) of the ALSWH were invited to participate in the study.

A total of 13 rural and 12 urban women aged between 83 and 88 years agreed to be interviewed.

Results: The women expressed a range of views on CAM which fell into three broad themes: “push”factors such as dissatisfaction with conventional health services, “pull”factors which emphasised the positive aspects of choice and self-care in health matters, and barriers to CAM use. Overall, the “push’factors did not play a major role in the decision to use CAM, rather this was driven by “pull”factors related to health care self-responsibility and being able to source positive information about types of CAM.

A number of barriers were identified such as access difficulties associated with increased age, limited mobility and restricted transport options, as well as financial constraints.

Conclusions: CAM use among older women was unlikely to be influenced by aspects of conventional health care (“push factors”), but rather was reflective of the personal beliefs of the women and members of their close social networks (“pull factors”). While it was also apparent that there were differences between the rural and urban women in their use of CAM, the reasons for this were mainly due to the difficulties inherent in accessing certain types of CAM in rural areas.

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