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How to avoid quacks and cure-alls.

Because health is at the forefront of concerns among many older Americans, they are seen as much more vulnerable to unorthodox treatments, often affording quacks an opportunity to make money off seniors. Such "miracle cures" or treatments usually are expensive and quickly deplete their bank accounts.

James Mold, associate professor of family medicine, University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, explains the reasons the elderly are susceptible to charlatans. "First, mature Americans tend to trust physicians more than younger people [do]. Younger people are more likely to question medical advice, whereas older people assume a physician knows what he or she is talking about and accepts it at face value. Secondly, seniors just have more medical problems, and many of [them] aren't easily solved. So, they're looking for that one doctor who can help them when nobody else has been able to, or that one medicine that will solve a problem when nothing else has."

Medical treatments for diseases such as cancer, heart disease, and diabetes generally are clearcut, and most seniors know that "miracle cures" don't exist. It's more common ailments that present an opportunity to quacks.

"The most common problems that quacks focus on are everyday types of pain . . . such as headaches and backaches, as well as common symptoms such as fatigue and dizziness. These chronic, uncomfortable ailments often are very difficult to diagnose and resolve. That's when people might be tempted to go shopping for some type of relief that their physician hasn't been able to provide."

What should the elderly be aware of if they become tempted by miracle cures? Mold offers these guidelines: * If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. "People should have a primary care physician they trust and to whom they can go for information. Even if a problem is not in that physician's particular area of expertise, the patient should get his or her opinion about the efficacy of the treatment." * Weigh the benefits of the treatment against the costs. "People should ask if the treatment will accomplish something that's really important to them. They should make sure the treatment will make a substantial difference in both their quantity and quality of life." * Check the qualifications of the doctor. "If [physicians tell] you they are certified in a particular specialty, it is not unreasonable to ask to see their credentials. Their sub-specialty may be a recognized discipline, or may not be. If you're still unsure, check [them] out with the county medical society. In some cases, it is wise to ask whether the medicine they're prescribing is approved by the Food and Drug Administration." * Inquire what hospitals they are affiliated with and if they are practicing within their specialty. "If a physician does not have hospital privileges, that should raise questions about his or her credentials. And, if they're not practicing within their chosen specialty--such as a plastic surgeon focusing on weight loss--that's a bad sign. That suggests [they have limited their] scope of treatment because they have found an area that brings in a lot of profit."
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Title Annotation:advice for the elderly
Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Date:Aug 1, 1993
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