2005-05-12 / Savvy Senior



Dear Savvy Senior:

My wife recently battled breast cancer and the doctors have her on Tamoxifen to help prevent any recurrence. She’s taking the medicine but lately she has been exploring a host of what I consider to be offbeat therapies that one of her friends (also a cancer survivor) recommended. All of this alternative health stuff seems a little strange for a traditionalist like me. Maybe I’m just too old fashioned, but I was wondering if you know of any place I can turn to learn more.

Conventional Codger

Dear Conventional:

Don’t be too quick to dismiss alternative medicines, some of which have been practiced for thousands of years in many cultures. In fact, it’s estimated that in he United States today, between 36 and 62 percent of adults are using some form of complementary or alternative medicine.

Alternative Health

Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) is a varied assortment of medical practices and products that are not considered conventional medicine. In other words, they don’t teach this stuff in medical schools. Some are strictly alternative, which means they are practiced in place of traditional therapies and treatments. The list of complementary and alternative medicines is long, and includes things like acupuncture, chiropractic care, hypnosis, massage, herbs and vitamins, and yoga, just to name a few. It also includes such techniques as biofeedback and energy healing. Even prayer is considered a form of alternative and complementary medicine.

Learn More

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) is the Federal Government’s lead agency on scientific research of CAM. NCCAM supports research to determine if CAM therapies work, whether they are effective and who might benefit most from the use of specific therapies.

To learn more about CAM, start by talking with your own doctor. Ask them about the different types of practices, how safe and effective they are and how they may work with existing treatments or medications. Here are three other resources to assist you:

• NCAAM Clearinghouse: They answer questions about CAM, distribute free publications and provide information on selecting complementary or alternative providers. Visit www.ncaam.nih.gov or call 888-644-6226.

• National Library of Medicine: The world’s largest medical library offers information, resources and results to scientific studies on CAM. Visit www.nlm.nih.giv or call 888-346-3656.

• National Pain Foundation: Provides information on traditional and complementary therapies for managing pain. Visit www.painconnection.org.

• Insurance: Find out if your therapy will be covered by insurance. In most cases, insurance or Medicare does not cover complementary and alternative practices.

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit www.savvysenor.org.

Jim Miller is a regular contributor to the NBC Today Show and author of “The Savvy Senior” Book.

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