Skip to main content

Natural Awakenings Rhode Island

Complementary Medicine for Treating Elderly Patients

Oct 29, 2019 02:41PM ● By Maureen Cary
Complementary Medicine for Treating Elderly Patients

A Drug-Free Alternative to Treating 
Chronic Conditions

by Tsewang Gyurmey


An all too common scenario is one where a doctor prescribes an aging mother a painkiller to help manage her chronic back pain. It helps the pain, but now she also feels tired and lightheaded from the medication. One day, she falls, breaks her hip and winds up back in the hospital for a complicated surgery and even more medication.

This vicious cycle can be commonplace for older adults. Medication used to manage pain and other chronic conditions can create undesirable side effects that require more medication and can even jeopardize their safety. But there’s an alternative path—one that can work alongside and in tandem with traditional medicine.

Enter complementary medicine: a medication-free approach to treating chronic conditions that empowers participants to take charge of their own well-being. Programs for All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE) Rhode Island, a health insurer and provider of comprehensive health services for frail seniors in the community, practices several complementary medicine methods. They include acupuncture, therapeutic massage, reiki and tai chi gong. 

Complementary versus Traditional Medicine

Like any medical treatment, complementary practices are tailored to the specific participant and are often used in tandem with traditional medical practices. Yet unlike traditional medicine, the treatment response comes side-effect free and, when used regularly, can have longer lasting benefits in treating pain and other symptoms. A holistic approach often improves health beyond treating the initial symptoms, including strengthening the immune system and relieving stress. It’s also often less impactful on one’s wallet, both in short-term savings on prescription medicines and long-term cost-effectiveness, coupled with a better quality of life.

Acupuncture may look scary to those who’ve never experienced it, but most people find that the fear—and the symptoms—dissipate with continued experience. Acupuncture needles are a tenth of the size of a hypodermic needle with an even smaller tip—about the diameter of a single strand of hair—and are inserted in a way so as to separate, rather than tear or cut, tissue, stimulating the chemicals that trigger healing and providing pain relief. 

Complementary medicine is not the best course of treatment for every situation. Certain conditions require a more individualized approach. For example, a patient on blood thinners should not be treated with an aggressive therapeutic massage, which could cause bruising. A lighter touch would be more appropriate. 

Like many treatments, holistic approaches often require ongoing use in order to reap the maximum benefits. Don’t expect immediate relief after the first visit, but anticipate regular visits to an acupuncturist or massage therapist. Slowly but surely, you will notice a difference in your symptoms. 

Numerous studies have proven the benefits of many holistic treatments, particularly for stress relief and pain management. As its prevalence increases, more and more organizations are looking into research on its effectiveness for various ailments. Complementary medicines are by no means a panacea but when used in combination with traditional medicine, they offer a drug-free alternative that many patients find appealing and effective. 

For more information on PACE RI, call 401-490-6566 or visit Pace-RI.org. See ad on page 19.

Dr. Tsewang Gyurmey has served as a primary care physician and geriatrician, and now as chief medical officer at PACE-RI.