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Oriental Medicine Can Make Aging Easier

Though National Senior Health and Fitness Day is May 25, most seniors don't know about the benefits Oriental medicine can have for many of the ailments endured by the elderly. Senior health care is a vital yet much ignored issue in the U.S.

According to a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services survey, there were 34.5 million people over the age of 65 in 1999, representing about 12.7 percent of the U.S. population. By 2030, that number will grow to 20 percent, or about 70 million people. Yet as large as it is, the elderly population experiences an alarming number of health problems that are often inadequately treated by the current senior health care system such as arthritis, depression, pain, constipation, stress and loneliness.

The suicide rate among people over 65 is higher than any other group, and is considered a major senior health care problem by the National Institute of Mental Health . Yet a case study conducted by a nurse consultant for Beverly Health and Rehabilitation Services, Inc. in 1997 found that seniors who received massage therapy experienced a tremendous improvement in mood and anxiety levels and found help with symptoms of depression. Exercise is another effective depression aid, but is rarely prescribed because of the fear of physical strain on older bodies. Yet the connection between the mind and the body cannot be ignored, especially for seniors who experience diminished physical ability.

"In a sense, aging is keyed to the level of vigor of the body and the continuous interaction between levels of body activity and levels of mental activity," said Arnold B. Scheibel, M.D., a professor of anatomy, cell biology, psychiatry and behavioral sciences.

In many cases the decrease in physical activity experienced by seniors as their bodies age has a direct link to symptoms of depression. Exercise and staying active can become a bodily strain, which can be frustrating for many.

Tai chi and Qigong offer gentle forms of exercise and have specific routines geared toward mature bodies. One of the main goals of Qigong is to relieve the mental "scatteredness," tension or negativity that occurs due to excess. Qigong also helps to revitalize a weakened condition. In effect, Qigong can help balance the body-mind back to its naturally tranquil, health y, and centered state. Ongoing studies of elderly patients and Qigong have shown positive results in dealing with depression. Exercise is beneficial for many other ailments as well.

A landmark study by researchers at the University of California , Los Angeles has shown that integrative exercise programs can have a direct, positive effect on the immune system in older adults. The study also found that prolonged use of a specific form of tai chi appeared to boost the immune system's response to a common virus (varicella-zoster), and could help ward off outbreaks of shingles, a painful, debilitating skin condition that occurs in the elderly population.

Acupuncture and massage are other treatment options that heal a range of health issues faced by seniors . Age is not a barrier to acupuncture or massage treatment. In fact, according to a recent Ohio State study, almost three in four seniors use alternative medicine.

In some cases, massage and laser ( a special strong light beam of one color that heals a damaged area) may be used instead of needles but, when they are required, only a few needles are used, usually for a very short time. Acupuncture treatment of elderly persons is most commonly directed towards managing a chronic condition and reducing discomfort.

One such condition - constipation - is treated very effectively with alternative medicine. The Oriental medicine constipation remedy can include herbs, acupuncture and/or massage . Oriental medicine explains constipation by two patterns: an excess type, caused either by heat accumulated in the stomach or spleen or by stagnation of qi in the liver and spleen, and a deficient type, brought on by blood and yin, or qi or yang deficiencies. Acupuncture works as a constipation remedy by balancing the yin and yang elements and unblocking stagnant qi, while herbs can help boost deficient areas.

Apart from Oriental medical help, there are helpful home constipation remedy tactics one can employ. Some foods or herbs such as aloe, sea tangle, beans, peanuts, apples, dropwart, kyolmyongja and tonggyuja are known constipation remedy substances.

Chinese massage , acupuncture and Qigong , while offering depression exercise and constipation remedy , also effectively treat arthritis, stress, loneliness, pain and more. Massage and acupuncture increase the circulation of blood and lymphatic fluids, reduce muscular tension, relieve pain, and release endorphins. Improved circulation brings fresh oxygen to body tissues, which eliminates waste products from inside the body and enhances recovery from diseases. And the bond that can be forged between practitioner and patient can serve to relieve loneliness and depression.

Senior health care is a pressing and important issue. Having well-rounded medical and personal care can make all the difference to those dealing with the many conditions associated with older age. Alternative medicine provides the balance many seek in their medical lives.

"It has been said that you can tell a lot about a society by the way its elderly are treated," said licensed acupuncturist and Pacific College of Oriental Medicine alumnus Matthew Bauer. "While high-tech, modern medicine has made great advances in life-saving interventions, its over-reliance on drugs and increasingly impersonal, high volume approach is especially hard on the elderly. We in Oriental medicine have the ability to truly complement mainstream medicine in treating the elderly by virtue of our gentle, supportive mode of therapy. Helping our elders cope with the inevitable decline that accompanies aging is personally rewarding, and helps make our entire society a better place."

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