Herbal medicine use and older adults: A social network analysis of information exchange

National surveys indicate that seniors account for a growing number of new herbal users, with the majority reporting use of at least one herbal within the last year. A growing number of older adults are seeking treatments outside of conventional medicine, and in many cases, are not informing their primary physician of this use. Lack of communication with medical doctors, coupled with the fact that information sources about herbal medicines are not always credible, creates the potential for drug-herb interactions, poor or delayed treatment and misconceptions about the efficacy of herbals for health. Doctors tend not to refer their patients to herbal practitioners or prescribe herbal medicines. Consequently, seniors rely on other sources to get this information. Kristine Votova is investigating how older adults obtain information about herbal medicines from their social networks. Kristine is assessing how these connections influence a senior’s decision to use herbal medicines. For example, are seniors more likely to act on information from people they have strong or weak ties with? And what impact does the age, sex and health status of those providing information have on the prevalence, frequency and duration of herbal use? This research will explain how seniors exchange information about alternative treatments, and can be used to target public health messages about the safety of these products.