Alternative medicine in a sample of 655 community-dwelling elderly.
OBJECTIVE: Use and satisfaction with herbal/homeopathic remedies, acupuncture and relaxation techniques were examined in an Italian elderly population. METHODS: Data were collected as part of a survey on an elderly population, conducted in 1996--1997 in the urban centre of Padua, Italy. A total of 1362 elderly received a letter inviting them to participate and to accept the visit of an interviewer at home. Of these, 212 were unable to do so for insurmountable reasons and 666 gave consent to take part in the study with a response rate of 65%. Eleven participants were excluded from the study because cognitively impaired. RESULTS: Among the 655 respondents, overall use of at least one alternative medicine was 29.5%. Herbs/phytotherapeutics (47%) and acupuncture (34%) were the most frequently cited therapies. The use of alternative medical practices seems rather widespread among the elderly population in Padua, especially among females with depressive symptoms, pain and discomfort, but not suffering from chronic somatic disease. A percentage of 3.7% of the sample used exclusively alternative medicines; those subjects seemed to be younger, less likely to be physically ill and to report functional disorders and chronic somatic disease. CONCLUSION: Alternative medicines seem to have a complementary role for the elderly with self-perceived psychological symptomatology or disorders, particularly of depressive nature. They may constitute an attempt at self-treatment, probably concealing the difficulties encountered by the elderly subjects in seeking specialist advice for these problems.