How Holistic Medicine Can Positively Impact Older Adults

The rising cost of health care is no secret to many older adults. However, Western medicine often gears itself toward fixing what’s already broken, not preventing disease in the first place. That’s where holistic medicine can benefit everyone, particularly older adults.

Although many people avoid mentioning “holistic medicine” as new-age mysticism, these techniques are science-based. Many modalities contain no profit motive, so you can feel secure using them, knowing that decades — sometimes centuries — of efficacy back these methods, not a desire for rapid riches. Let’s take a closer look at how holistic medicine can positively impact older adults.

What Is Holistic Medicine, Anyway? 

Those who work in mental health care understand better than anyone how life circumstances in a patient’s life can affect their overall well-being more than any medical treatment. An antidepressant corrects chemical imbalances but doesn’t end poverty. However, teaching patients holistic techniques that suit their budgets can complement traditional therapy sessions.

Holistic medicine evaluates the entire patient, including circumstances that increase disease. It encompasses the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual dimensions of health. It treats the symptom causing the most distress and the underlying causes exacerbating it, leading to genuine healing over temporary relief.

For example, a patient visiting a holistic practitioner for chronic pain and depression will undergo a lengthy interview. If it turns out they rarely move their bodies or get fresh air, their practitioner may recommend seemingly unconventional treatments like spending several afternoons per week visiting a park.

However, numerous studies show that spending more time outdoors results in the following benefits for people of all ages: 

  • Preventing obesity: Getting outside makes you move more, addressing overweight and the depression that can accompany feeling bad about your body size.
  • Maintaining healthy vitamin D levels: Vitamin D influences your immune response and mood.
  • Reduction in stress, anxiety and ADHD: Gazing at natural scenes decreases stress hormone production and improves focus.

While some holistic techniques have costs, such as a professional massage, many are free. You can visit a holistic practitioner to create a program that works for you. However, you can also create a personalized program yourself, including several of the good-for-you methods on the list below, without spending a dime on a consultation.

10 Types of Holistic Medicine for Older Adults 

Holistic medicine isn’t as esoteric as the term sounds. It often involves commonsense life changes that improve overall health and reduce disease risk. Here are ten of the most common varieties, although there are far too many modalities to fit in one article.

1. Diet

The right diet can make a huge difference in your overall health. If you suspect an allergy may lurk behind your chronic symptoms, try elimination diets. Although many people have one of the big eight, there are lesser-known allergies to certain oils or additives that can produce serious symptoms in some.

Other holistic diet techniques work for everyone. For example, reducing consumption of ultra-processed foods and increasing intake of brightly colored vegetables and fruits is a plus for anyone. You might not need to make drastic changes to experience benefits. A few rules of thumb that work quickly include: 

  • Ditch the white: White sugar and white flour absorb quickly and spike your blood sugar before crashing it. Neither is good for diabetes risk, and the Type 2 form increases the risk of other chronic diseases, especially among older adults.
  • Eat the rainbow: Various plant colors correlate to different phytonutrient profiles, so aim for at least three colors at each meal to get everything you need.
  • Watch your fats: You need healthy fats, like omega-3s. mono and polyunsaturated fats are typically heart-healthy, although some doctors express concern about the high number of vegetable oils in the American diet. Olive and avocado are good choices, and the saturated fat in coconut oil seems to behave differently than that found in animal products.

2. Exercise

Your body loves to move, but you lose the ability as you age if you don’t use it. Regular exercise is essential to physical and mental health. The trick is to find a movement you love and personalize it for your tastes.

For example, many people find the buddy system effective for helping you stick to your goals. However, introverts who recently got the return-to-office order might be overstimulated and thirsty for the release a long, solo hike brings. Try an online quiz to discover your exercise personality and choose something that works for your unique and beautiful body.

3. Acupuncture and Acupressure

Acupuncture is an ancient technique. According to Eastern practitioners, it manipulates the chi or vital energy flow through your body. Western minds believe that the needles activate various nerve fibers to bring about healing effects.

Although the needles used in acupuncture are so hair-thin, most patients don’t feel them, it’s okay if you’re nervous. Acupressure uses similar pressure points but no needles if you’re poke-phobic. Although practitioners must be licensed, most treatments cost $150 or less. You won’t need insurance, but yours might cover treatment — call your coverage company to check.

4. Massage 

A good therapeutic massage releases muscle knots and eases stress. While there’s little substitute for a professional rubdown, you can master some techniques to use on yourself or your partner.

You can also find self-massage devices. For example, many older adults like kicking back in a massaging recliner. These devices improve your circulation, carrying oxygen-rich blood to the places that need it, like the overworked muscles supporting your spine.

5. Aromatherapy 

Many people pooh-pooh aromatherapy, but evidence shows it works. How? It activates scent receptors in your nose that send messages to your brain, in turn transmitting signals to the rest of your body. Studies show that it can relieve anxiety and boost immune response. Best of all, you can buy a diffuser for under $20 nearly anywhere, and essential oils run only a few bucks per bottle.

6. Herbal Medicine

Every medicine on pharmacy shelves came from nature at some point. While science has isolated certain compounds for medicinal purposes, these substances exist in various herbs with other beneficial nutrients that can make them even more effective for some people.

For example, some people with arthritis have had success with turmeric, black pepper and ashwagandha tea. The black pepper amplifies the anti-inflammatory effect of the curcumin in turmeric, and ashwagandha works as an adaptogen to combat the impact of oxidative stress on your joints.

7. Yoga 

Yoga is a form of exercise that anyone can do at any age — but it’s so much more. The combination of deep breathing and gentle movement activates your parasympathetic nervous system. That’s the side of your nervous system that helps you relax, and it’s underactive in many older adults, leading to disease.

Some forms of yoga you might explore include:

  • Restorative yoga
  • Yin yoga
  • Hatha yoga
  • Ashtanga
  • Hot yoga
  • Power yoga
  • Chair-based yoga

8. Lifelong Learning

Many older adults do puzzles to stave off the cognitive decline accompanying aging. Anything that gets your brain in the game can qualify as holistic medicine when done mindfully and purposefully.

For example, you might refresh your French-speaking ability with a language-learning app if you haven’t practiced since high school. Studies show that learning a second language can delay dementia onset.

9. Social Activities 

Loneliness plagues many older adults, and it can increase their risk of dying from nearly any disease. You might not think of socializing as holistic medicine, but it is. Humans have an innate need to relate with others, and isolation adversely affects mental health.

Older adults might be isolated, especially as friends and partners pass away. They can maintain an active social life by:

  • Taking a class at the library
  • Volunteering
  • Getting involved in local politics

10. Biofeedback 

Professional biofeedback treatments can cost a pretty penny, but technology is on your side. There’s a world of wearable devices, many of which let you download heart rate variability (HRV) training apps. Consider using one of these tools while making other lifestyle changes to receive tangible results about how they affect your overall health.

Holistic Medicine’s Positive Impact On Older Adults 

Holistic medicine treats the whole patient, including the lifestyle factors influencing disease development. They prevent and cure and offer a chance for true healing over temporary symptom abatement.

Best of all, many holistic techniques are free, making them the perfect complementary therapy for physical or mental conditions. They work for people of any age and may particularly benefit older adults looking to enjoy a better quality of life throughout their golden years.

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