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Using Alternative Therapies to Manage Chronic Illness Among Older Adults: An Examination of the Health Context, Predisposing and Enabling Processes

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  31 March 2010

Andrew V. Wister
Simon Fraser University at Harbour Center
Minda Chittenden
Simon Fraser University at Harbour Center
Bonnie McCoy
Simon Fraser University at Harbour Center
Kelly Wilson
Simon Fraser University at Harbour Center
Trasey Allen
Simon Fraser University at Harbour Center
Melanie Wong
Simon Fraser University at Harbour Center


This paper examines use of alternative therapies to manage a chronic illness among older adults with at least one of three major conditions: arthritis, heart disease, and hypertension. Drawing from developments in the health utilization literature, a focus is placed on the illness context, predisposing factors, and several factors deemed to enable persons to use complementary medicine. The baseline data (n = 879) from the 1995–96 North Shore Self-Care Study conducted in Vancouver, Canada were used for this study. Two dependent variables were analysed using logistic regression techniques – the first is based on a comprehensive question about using alternative therapies (such as herbal remedies, acupuncture, massage therapy, etc.) to manage a chronic condition; and the second uses a more specific question pertaining to meditation or praying. The results from the first analysis show that being younger, suffering from arthritis compared to hypertension, comorbidity, taking fewer medications, lower income, reading on the chronic condition, and the interaction between reading and illness self-efficacy are associated with trying alternative therapies. The findings for the second analysis show that being female, being younger, and not married, as well as reporting a more serious condition, illness duration and the interaction between having moderate levels of mutual aid and number of confidants result in a greater likelihood of trying meditation/prayer. Implications of these results are discussed in terms of their theoretical import, and their relevance for the degree to which unconventional and conventional medicine are complementary.


Cet article traite de l'utilisation de médecines douces pour gérer une maladie chronique chez les adultes âgés qui souffrent d'au moins une des trois affections suivantes: arthrite, maladie du œeur et hypertension. En tirant des conclusions de la littérature reliée à la santé, l'accent est mis sur le contexte de la maladie, les facteurs prédisposants et plusieurs facteurs qui semblent inciter certaines personnes à utiliser des médecines douces. Des données de départ (n = 87) tirées d'une étude effectuée en 1995–96 à Vancouver, Canada (North Shore Self-Care Study) ont été utilisées. On a analysé deux variables dépendantes en utilisant des techniques de régression logistique – la première se fonde sur une question globale concernant l'utilisation des médecines douces (les herbes médicinales, l'acupuncture, les massages thérapeutiques, etc.) pour gérer un état chronique et la deuxième porte sur une question plus spécifique relative à la méditation ou la prière. Les résultats de la première analyse montrent que le fait d'être plus jeune, de souffrir d'arthrite par rapport à l'hypertension, de comorbidité, de consommer moins de médicaments, d'avoir des revenus plus bas, de lire sur son état chronique et d'agir sur soi à partir de ses lectures sont associés à l'essai des médecines douces. Les conclusions de la deuxième analyse montrent que le fait d'être une femme, plus jeune, célibataire, d'avoir un état plus grave et une maladie plus longue, le lien entre des niveaux modérés d'entraide et le nombre de confidents, incitent vraisemblablement à avoir recours à la méditation et à la prière. Les répercussions de ces résultats sont abordés sous l'angle de leur signification théorique et du degré de pertinence de la complémentarité de la médecine conventionnelle et non conventionnelle.

Copyright © Canadian Association on Gerontology 2002

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