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Exploring Alternative Healing As You Age

Michele Teter - November 23, 2015 12:29 PM

Roughly one-third of America’s senior citizen population takes five prescription medications a day. There’s a pill for high blood pressure, a pill for Type 2 diabetes, a pill for high cholesterol, and a pill for depression. Basically, there’s a pill for every type of chronic illness you can think of; and as people age, chronic ailments occur with increasing frequency. Advanced age also brings the risk of unexpected injuries due to falls or other accidents. Often, the necessary medications are prescribed by different specialists who don’t communicate with one another. For a senior citizen, these multiple scripts — known as polypharmacy — can cause confusion and often death if taken at the wrong times or accidentally taken twice in one day. Reluctant to get on the prescription drug bandwagon, more and more baby boomers are trying alternative therapies to cope with minor aches and chronic disorders, and with surprising effects.

Holistic Massage
Since ancient times, eastern medicine has harnessed the healing power of massage to help the human body fight illness and recover from physical and spiritual setbacks. Western culture has recently tapped into the benefits of Reiki therapy and other massage treatments that developed in the East, but these holistic therapies were initially met with skepticism. Over time, studies have shown how effective Reiki can be in fighting illness and pain. The same goes for reflexology, which targets pressure points in your feet and hands that correspond to your internal organs. The massage stimulates blood flow and oxygenates your cells to keep them healthy and active.
The ancient art of acupuncture also draws inspiration from this concept of re-directing the flow of qi energy. Many people are hesitant to try acupuncture because they have a fear of needles. In the hands of a trained acupuncturist, these needles can be healing devices to ease chronic pain that may not respond to other treatments. The practitioner can target a pain source directly, or work in the vicinity of the pain source to trigger the release of healing endorphins. After acupuncture sessions, your endorphin and serotonin levels continue to surge, so it’s common to feel simultaneously calm and rejuvenated. Recent speculation has also suggested that acupuncture can be effective for anything from peripheral neuropathy, to nausea and fatigue caused by chemotherapy.

As you age, it’s not uncommon to see little symptoms pop up here and there, but not mention them until they can’t help but interfere with your daily life. It becomes increasingly challenging to bend, stretch or recover from even low-impact exercise. Integrate a few simple yoga poses, or asanas, into your daily routine, and you may find relief from some of these limitations. Older patients have reported an increased range of motion and flexibility over time. Not to mention that yoga has long been recognized for its ability to ease stress and promote relaxation, two more benefits that can help boost a patient’s immune system.

Some senior citizens may have physical problems that limit their ability to engage in some alternative healing methods. Meditation can be a great resource, not only for those who are physically limited, but also for anyone experiencing symptoms of physical or emotional stress. A quick meditation usually takes about 20 minutes, and can have lasting effects on your well-being.

Herbal Supplements
Vitamin stores are stocked with jars of plant-based pills designed to cure a myriad of ailments. Just browse the selection one day, and you’re sure to find a pill, salve or powder for nearly any type of discomfort. Science has proven that alternative medicine can be highly effective in preventing chronic pain, and treating other ailments, often when combined with a prescription medication. Cinnamon, for example, has been proven to help control blood sugar levels, whereas calcium strengthens your bones. Saw palmetto raises the estrogen level to make the transition to menopause easier for older women. Refer to this list of helpful vitamins and supplements for a more detailed study.

As always, patients should consult their physicians before making any changes to their medical care and physical activity. Many of these therapies can be safely integrated into a patient’s existing wellness plan.  Some of the benefits include reduced side effects, lower costs and increased energy. The techniques that we refer to as alternative now, may be part of the mainstream before we know it. 

Michele Teter is a co-founder of Alliance Homecare, which provides seniors with a wide range of in-home care services. Michele works as the Director of Patient Services and focuses on providing the highest level of geriatric care management for seniors and their loved ones.

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