The Comparative Effect of Episodes of Chiropractic and Medical Treatment on the Health of Older Adults

This study provides evidence of the comparative effectiveness of chiropractic care relative to medical-only services on the functional health of older adults during acute episodes of back care. Given the literature supporting a minimally effective chiropractic treatment level for back problems, this research provides additional support that such therapeutic levels are indeed beneficial in terms of protecting older persons from functional declines and self rated health over as much as 2 years.

March–April, 2014 Volume 37, Issue 3, Pages 143–154

Paula A Weigel, MS

The comparative effect of chiropractic vs medical care on health, as used in everyday practice settings by older adults, is not well understood. The purpose of this study is to examine how chiropractic compares to medical treatment in episodes of care for uncomplicated back conditions. Episodes of care patterns between treatment groups are described, and effects on health outcomes among an older group of Medicare beneficiaries over a 2-year period are estimated.

Survey data from the nationally representative Survey on Assets and Health Dynamics among the Oldest Old were linked to participants’ Medicare Part B claims under a restricted Data Use Agreement with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Logistic regression was used to model the effect of chiropractic use in an episode of care relative to medical treatment on declines in function and well-being among a clinically homogenous older adult population. Two analytic approaches were used, the first assumed no selection bias and the second using propensity score analyses to adjust for selection effects in the outcome models.

Episodes of care between treatment groups varied in duration and provider visit pattern. Among the unadjusted models, there was no significant difference between chiropractic and medical episodes of care. The propensity score results indicate a significant protective effect of chiropractic against declines in activities of daily living (ADLs), instrumental ADLs, and self-rated health (adjusted odds ratio [AOR], 0.49; AOR, 0.62; and AOR, 0.59, respectively). There was no difference between treatment types on declines in lower body function or depressive symptoms.

The findings from this study suggest that chiropractic use in episodes of care for uncomplicated back conditions has protective effects against declines in ADLs, instrumental ADLs, and self-rated health for older Medicare beneficiaries over a 2-year period.

Journal Abstract