The Best of…Seniors Turn to Acupuncture to Treat Age-Related Illness

Published April 30, 2001, Pawtucket Times

            New lifestyle changes are taking hold of age 50-plus seniors.  Many are dropping junk foods, soft drinks, and coffee from their daily diets in favor of following microbiotic recipes, buying only organically grown foods and drinking spring water.

             A growing number of older Rhode Islanders are also combining visits to their personal physicians with nonconventional healing practices, from chiropractic care to Chinese medicine, herbs, homeopathy, acupuncture, biofeedback, message, and reflexology.

            This trend is reflected as far back as 1993 when a study published by the New England Journal of Medicine noted that about 34 percent of 1,539 people surveyed used one alternative therapy in the past year, one-third had even seen an alternative therapy provider.

And Speaking of Acupuncture…

           Acupuncture stands out as a uniquely effective treatment modality for ailments effecting older persons.

          Acupuncture needs stimulate specific acupuncture points lying on identified meridians or pathways for energy or Qi (pronounced “chee”) that are located on the head, body or ears.

          Stimulation is accomplished by inserting and then manipulating very think sterile single-use needles.  This alternative therapy can also include heat, electro-stimulation, low intensity lasers or magnets, each applied to selected acupuncture points.

         According to Nancy Emerson Lombardo, Ph.D., senior research scientist at Wellesley College Center for Research and Women, acupuncture treats the whole body rather than its isolated symptoms and may be particularly useful for a disease caused by the aging process, such as Alzheimer’s disease.

         Dr. Emerson Lombardo states that her study, the first of its kind in the nation, found that acupuncture is definitely feasible for American elderly with Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia.

         Moreover, acupuncture relieves symptoms of anxiety and depression in most of the patients in her study.  Succesful relief of severe anxiety and depression in four study participants also improved cognitive functioning in three of the four.

         Various research studies reveal just how acupuncture works, Emerson Lombardo said, noting that researchers have found that acupuncture can: release certain neurotransmitters and hormones (including endorphins, which relieve pain and elevate mood).

          Acupuncture can also increase blood circulation, release substances known to reduce inflammation in tissues, and/or boost the immune system.

          Furthermore, the internationally recognized Wellesley College researcher added that “acupuncture has proven effective for many mental and physical complaints afflicting the elderly.”

         These include pain and arthritis; stroke; headaches and back aches; inflammations; insomnia; allergies and asthma, nausea and constipation; and postoperative pain.

         “Acupuncture is as effective as conventional drugs and has fewer side-effects for improving emotions, and helping with symptoms of anxiety, sleep disturbance, and irritability,” Dr. Emerson Lombardo said.

          In treating major depression, acupuncture has shown improvement rates comparable to those of psychotherapy or pharmacotherapy, she adds.

         Dr. Emerson Lombardo stated that acupuncture therapy should be considered a safe treatment.

          The unconventional medical treatment has been approved and is recognized as a safe and effective therapy for treating various conditions by both the World Health Organization, the U.S. Federal Drug Administration and the National Institute of Health.

Finding the Best Acupuncturist

           When shopping around for the best acupuncturist, Dr. Emerson Lombardo suggested that seniors should interview the acupuncturist briefly on the telephone, requesting information about training, licensing, and experience in treating the particular ailment(s).

          Call the American Association of Oriental Medicine (AAOM) at (888) 500-7999 or (610) 266-1433 to obtain a list of local licensed acupuncturists who have had an average of 2,400 hours of study.  Or get this list from AAOM’s web site, (

           Herb Weiss is a Pawtucket-based freelance writer that covers aging, health care and medical issues.  This article appears in the April 30, 2001 issue of the Pawtucket Times.


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