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J Am Aging Assoc. 2002 Jan;25(1):11-20. doi: 10.1007/s11357-002-0002-3.

Adverse effects of unconventional therapies in the elderly: A systematic review of the recent literature.

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Department of Complementary Medicine, School of Sport and Health Sciences, University of Exeter, 25 Victoria Park Road, Exeter, EX2 4NT UK.


Unconventional therapies are increasingly popular, not least in populations of elderly individuals. This review summarizes the evidence regarding the risk unconventional therapies may entail for the elderly. Computerized literature searches were performed to locate all reports with original data on this topic. Most of the evidence found was anecdotal by nature and thus has obvious limitations. The results show that elderly patients can suffer harm from unconventional therapies. Herbal treatments are associated most frequently with adverse events. They can cause both direct toxicity and unwanted herb-drug interactions. Acupuncture, spinal manipulation and even massage therapy have also been implicated. Indirect risks exist if unconventional therapies are employed as a substitute for conventional treatments. It is concluded that unconventional therapies are not risk-free for elderly patients. All parties involved ought to be educated with a view of minimizing this risk, and more research is needed to increase our understanding of this area.

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