complementary and alternative medicine

Falls are a significant risk to the elderly population and are a leading cause of hospitalization due to trauma. As more nonconventional treatments are used to treat ailments, a new study examines the association between complementary and alternative medicine use and falls.


In older adults living in the community, falls are a serious health concern. They are the leading cause of injury-related mortality, can lead to nonlethal injuries and can result in hospitalization. As our population continues to age, it becomes more significant to determine risk factors for falls and install preventative measures. Concurrently, complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) is growing in popularity among the elderly, and its novelty to patient care calls into question its association with falls.

CAM consists of approaches to treating and preventing disease that are not included in traditional medicine. Examples include: yoga, tai chi, acupuncture, homeopathy, naturopathy, chiropractic, hypnosis and diet supplementation. CAM has been segmented into movement therapies, alternative medical systems, manipulative and body-based therapies, mind-body therapies and biologically based therapies. Each category was examined for its relationship with falls among elderly adults.

In a new study published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, Caron et al. examined the association between CAM and falls in older adults. Data was collected from a cross-sectional survey of adults aged 60 years and older from New York City senior centres. The survey included a comprehensive list of CAM types and whether the individual had experiences no falls, a fall or multiple falls in the past year. Of 1870 responders, 1273 were included who had complete study variables.

The study found that the prevalence of falls in older New Yorkers was similar to the national average, at 26.8%, while prevalence of CAM use was higher. Many of the symptoms that lead individuals to seek CAM treatment are also risk factors for falls, such as neck and back pain. However, only manipulative and body based therapies showed an association with increased risk of falling. The other CAM types showed no association with falling, and the association with manipulative and body-based therapies may be a result of adults seeking this therapy who are already at a higher risk of falling due to their condition(s).

The survey does not and was not meant to determine causality, as falls were self-reported, likely being underreported, and frequency of CAM use was not documented. Regardless, practitioners using CAM therapies should expect patients at higher risks of falling and thus be educated in preventative measures.




Written By: Wesley Tin, BMSc

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