Tallying the numbers

Concerns raised over the number of elderly Australians using complementary medicines 

Almost three quarters of Australians aged 70 year and over are using complementary medicines regularly, an amount that raises concerns over their marketing and promotion, say the authors of a new study.

Researchers analysed data from over 14,000 participants in the ASPirin in Reducing Events in the Elderly (ASPREE) Longitudinal Study of Older Persons (ALSOP), conducted in 2015.

They found that 74.3% of respondents reported using complementary medicines daily or occasionally. 

The findings revealed that complementary medicines were used by over 82% of women (6637 of 8068) and 64% of men (4324 of 6689).

They were more commonly used by people with more than 12 years of education (75.7%) than by those  with less education (73.3%).

The most commonly used products were fish oil (used by 44.5% of respondents), vitamin D (33.8%), glucosamine (26.7%), and calcium supplements (24.7%).

“Complementary medicines are used by more than half the people in Australia, incurring out‐of‐pocket health expenses of about $5.2 billion in 2019,” said the study authors.

“Information about their use by older adults in Australia is more than a decade old. Given subsequent demographic changes and doubling in sales of vitamins and supplements, we should update our knowledge in this area,” they said.

“Our findings provide the most comprehensive information to date on complementary medicine use by Australians over 70 years of age”.

“While proprietary complementary medicines are generally regarded as safe, their widespread use by older people, who generally have a greater burden of disease, higher medical expenses, and low or fixed incomes, raises questions about their marketing and promotion,” they added.

The proportions of complementary medicine users who reported a history of depression (24.4%) or osteoarthritis (58.4%) were larger than for non‐users, the study revealed, while self‐reported diabetes was more common among non‐users (9.6%) than among complementary medicine users (7.4%). 

Of the respondents, 55% were women and the mean age of all respondents was 75.2 years.

The research was published this month in the Medical Journal of Australia (MJA)

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