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What Integrative Therapies Are Used For Geriatrics?

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What Integrative Therapies Are Used For Geriatrics?

The number of people over the age of 65 is growing rapidly. Between 2009 and 2019, the number of older Americans increased by 36%, compared to a 3% increase for people under 65. 

With age comes health problems. Almost 80% of Americans over 65 have one or more chronic medical conditions, and 50% have two or more. These health problems are costing them, as out-of-pocket healthcare expenses rose 41% in this population between 2009 and 2019. 

Older adults need healthcare solutions tailored to their unique physical, mental, and social needs, factors gerontologists look at. Integrative therapies can play an essential role in geriatrics by addressing their distinct needs, encouraging appropriate healthy lifestyle practices, and supporting healthy aging.


What is Gerontology?

Older adults have unique challenges that may differ from their younger counterparts. These challenges come in all forms, including physical, mental, social, societal, economic, and legal. The issues older adults face are so unique and important that a separate area of study is dedicated to this population, called gerontology.

Gerontology is the scientific study of the physical, mental, and social processes and challenges of aging. This field looks at aging from a broader perspective than just biology. It also investigates the aging population's impact on society and applies that information to policies and programs. 

For example, gerontologists might study the biology of how metabolism changes with age. They may also explore the relationship between isolation and how seniors use technology or investigate a city's transportation system to improve their access to services.

Gerontology is a broad, multidisciplinary term that represents a variety of researchers, biologists, physicians, policy experts, social workers, psychologists, and other experts in aging to improve people's quality of life and well-being as they age.

What are The Top Integrative Therapies Used in Gerontology?

Integrative medicine is an approach to healthcare that incorporates a variety of conventional and complementary therapies to address the whole person, including their physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being. Integrative medicine can play an essential role in gerontology by addressing the unique needs of older adults and promoting healthy aging. Below are some of the top integrative therapies used in gerontology: 

Integrative Geriatric Nutrition

Integrative nutrition for older adults strives to optimize health by utilizing food therapeutically to trigger the body's natural healing processes. Anorexia of aging (a decreased appetite or food intake in the elderly), dehydration, and malnutrition are common geriatric nutritional challenges that can lead to frailty and sarcopenia (the age-related loss of muscle mass and strength). Integrative geriatric nutrition explores the role of nutrigenomics and therapeutic diets in addressing and preventing these health challenges and promoting longevity.

Integrative Pain Management for Geriatric Populations

Chronic pain is widespread in the elderly, with nearly 53% of people over 65 suffering from persistent pain. An integrative approach to pain management for geriatric populations enhances conventional treatments by incorporating non-pharmacologic modalities to reduce pain and improve function and quality of life. Evidence-based, non-pharmacologic treatment options for pain management include yoga, massage, meditation, mindfulness-based stress reduction, acupuncture, spinal manipulation, and physical therapy. These lifestyle-based and integrative therapies offer older adults lower-risk pain relief options for improving their quality of life.

Exercise and Movement Therapy for Geriatric Population

Physical activity helps maintain physical and mental health and can increase a healthy lifespan, yet most older adults don't get enough exercise. Physical repercussions of a sedentary lifestyle on the aging population include a decline in muscle power, aerobic capacity (VO2 max), loss of muscle mass, and an increase in adipose (fat) tissue. For the geriatric population, exercise, as well as movement therapies like tai chi and yoga, encourage physical activity to reverse this decline in physical capacity, restore function, and prevent the frailty associated with aging. Exercise and movement therapies are an essential integrative approach for improving physical health and keeping older people mobile and independent.

Mind-Body Medicine for Geriatric Populations

Mind-body medicine focuses on understanding and encouraging the connection between the mind and the body to promote physical, mental, and spiritual wellness. Mind-body therapies such as mindfulness-based stress reduction, relaxation therapy, meditation, yoga, tai chi, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), and abdominal breathing can positively impact various conditions and ailments common among older adults. Integrative medicine takes a whole-person approach that recognizes the importance of the mind-body connection and the vital role that connection plays in well-being as we age. 

Integrative Palliative Care for Geriatric Populations

Pain, fatigue, nausea and vomiting, constipation, and difficulty breathing are common symptoms the elderly experience at the end of life. Integrative palliative care for geriatric populations provides an integrative approach to providing palliative relief during this stage. Examples of integrative therapies used in palliative care include acupuncture, tai chi, meditation, music therapy, massage, and aromatherapy. Integrative palliative care also encompasses discussing patient goals and advanced care planning for when patients cannot make decisions for themselves, alongside conventional palliative care. 

Integrative Oncology for Geriatric Population

While the risk for cancer increases with age, tolerance to traditional treatments may decline, especially when comorbidities are a factor. Integrative oncology for geriatric populations is an evidence-based approach to whole-person cancer care that uses lifestyle changes, mind-body practices, and natural therapies alongside conventional cancer treatments. Diet, exercise, sleep hygiene, stress management, and social support are lifestyle factors important in integrative oncology for cancer prevention, as well as supporting patient comfort and improving outcomes during cancer treatment.

Memory and Mind Support for Geriatric Populations

An integrative approach to memory and mind support for geriatric populations includes diet and mind-body therapies as effective strategies. The Mediterranean diet and green tea show benefits for cognition from a nutritional perspective. Integrative mind-body therapies such as yoga, meditation, mindfulness-based therapies, and tai chi offer support for mood and cognitive disorders that the elderly face.

Top Functional Medicine Labs For Gerontology

Functional medicine labs can help uncover the causes of specific struggles associated with age. Below are some of the most beneficial labs for this age group:

Comprehensive Stool Test

Gastrointestinal changes are common as we age, and certain gut conditions occur more frequently in the elderly. People over 65 account for 80% of worldwide cases of Clostridium Difficile Colitis (CDC). Constipation, ulcers, and gastritis (inflammation of the stomach lining) are other common gastrointestinal complaints among older adults. Comprehensive stool analysis offers a valuable way to assess gastrointestinal health in the geriatric population. 

The Genova Diagnostics GI Effects® Comprehensive Profile is an excellent option as it assesses digestive function, inflammation, immune function, and the intestinal microbiome. Zonulin can be added to this test to evaluate for increased intestinal permeability (often referred to as "leaky gut"). This test also offers microbe sensitivity testing to determine which prescription medications and natural agents will be effective against identified pathogens. This is beneficial information when constructing a treatment plan for older adults to ensure the treatment is targeted and effective.

Hormone Testing

As we age, changes naturally occur in our hormone system. The breakdown of hormones is more gradual, and some hormones rise while others fall. Hormone testing provides a way to evaluate the changes in this system. 

The DUTCH Complete is a urine test that assesses sex and adrenal hormones and their metabolites. It also captures a daily free cortisol rhythm and melatonin, which is beneficial information for seniors experiencing sleep difficulties as these hormones help regulate the circadian rhythm (the body's natural 24-hour cycle). 

Inflammatory Markers

Inflammation isn't just a process associated with acute injury and infection; it's at the core of most chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, kidney disease, and liver disease, among many others. For this reason, inflammatory markers, such as hs-CRP and homocysteine, are essential to evaluate in seniors.

Cardiovascular Testing

Over 70% of individuals over 70 are estimated to experience cardiovascular disease. Evaluating cardiovascular health markers is imperative to provide the best integrative care for seniors. The CardioMetabolic test by BostonHeart Diagnostics can evaluate cardiac health and metabolic function in one test.

Micronutrient Testing

Malnutrition is common in older adults, making a case for micronutrient testing as an essential inclusion for assessing their overall health. The Micronutrient Test by SpectraCell Laboratories measures 31 essential nutrients to help practitioners identify and correct imbalances.

Comprehensive Blood Testing

A comprehensive blood workup is a valuable way to gain information about overall health at any age, but it's especially important to include for the elderly. With the high prevalence of conditions like diabetes and cancer, a thorough workup is warranted. A complete workup may include CMP, CBC, hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c), insulin, and anemia panel to gain an overall picture of health status along with other functional lab testing.


Older adults represent a growing part of our communities with unique physical, mental, and social needs, which gerontology seeks to address. Integrative medicine offers a valuable care option for seniors by addressing their distinct health needs and supporting a healthy aging process. Integrative therapies used in gerontology address a wide range of issues that geriatric patients suffer from using a whole-person approach to improve their quality of life and well-being.

The information provided is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always consult with your doctor or other qualified healthcare provider before taking any dietary supplement or making any changes to your diet or exercise routine.
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