Alternative therapies have long been accepted and practiced among Eastern and Middle Eastern cultures. The interest in Eastern medical approaches among Western cultures is growing and more Westerners are practicing and seeking out alternative therapies for the treatment of many physical conditions including Parkinson's disease (PD). According to one survey, the use of complementary alternative medicine (CAM) in the United States increased by 45% from 1990 to 1996 with over 600 million visits per year and over 27 billion dollars spent by public consumers most of which was not reimbursed by insurance companies (1). This trend has also been observed among persons diagnosed with PD. One study surveyed 75 persons with PD and found that 48% regularly practiced some form of alternative therapy (2). More specifically, 48% practiced tai chi, 45% spiritual healing or prayer, 36% yoga, 36% massage therapy, 27% acupuncture, 24% meditation, and 15% herbal therapies. Similarly, another survey found 40% of PD patients practiced at least one alternative therapy specifically for the treatment of PD (3).
One of the reasons people are exploring alternative therapies is because of the limitations of current medical and surgical therapies for PD. Over years or decades, conventional therapies are less effective in the majority of PD patients and the motor symptoms of PD typically worsen. This often results in a reduction of independence and quality of daily life of both the person and the family affected by PD. Because no cure currently exists for PD and even with the best available conventional therapies the motor symptoms continue to worsen, some patients turn to alternative therapies. Many persons seeking alternative therapies are hoping that these therapies may slow or even cure PD. Some of these false hopes are a direct result of misinformation about particular therapies often found on the internet or in layperson health magazines and nonconventional medical journals as well as marketing of the product or service. It is imperative that a greater understanding of the potential risks and benefits of nonconventional therapies for the treatment of PD is gained in order to provide sound and safe medical advice. Given the increasing interest and use of CAM, it behooves both Eastern and Western healthcare providers to work together to bridge the gap between these two medical approaches and to better define whether any of these therapies are beneficial and could be used in the treatment of PD and which are potentially harmful or ineffective for PD. This chapter reviews the more common Eastern and nonconventional medical models and describes many of the more commonly practiced alternative therapies for PD.
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