Health Literacy Consulting How-To Tip
Older adults may have more difficulty than others when it comes to understanding health information. This month’s How-To Tip highlights reasons why this might be so, examples of how to help, and links to relevant Health Literacy Out Loud (HLOL) podcast interviews along with other resources.
- Appreciate that it can extra hard for older adults to understand health information. The older we get, the more diagnoses we might accumulate. We may also take more medications, each with the potential for nasty side effects and drug interactions. Adding to these factors can be the commotion of leading busy lives along with feeling sick, scared, or in pain. All these can result in trouble paying attention to, and remembering, new health information. Listen as Carolyn Ijams Speros, DNSc, FNP-BC, talks about Communicating about Health with Older Adults (HLOL #50).
- Communicate in ways that help others understand. Aging can diminish one’s ability to see, hear, and remember. These changes can affect how people understand and express information. Here are examples of ways to help. When creating print materials, use fonts that are sufficiently large and make sure there is strong contrast between the color of text and background (such as black on white, or white on black). In spoken communication, enunciate clearly (but not annoyingly loud or slow). Have your conversations in places with good lighting and minimal background sounds. Listen as Cynthia Stuen, PhD/DSW, talks about Age-Related Vision Loss (HLOL #21). And Michael McKee, MD, discusses “Health Literacy and Hearing Loss (HLOL #130).
- Encourage older adults to bring a list of important questions and concerns. I not only make such lists for myself but often times help others figure out what they most want to know. You can help by asking patients what questions they have. Then listen patiently to what they say. Also provide paper, pens, and hard writing surfaces (such as clipboards) for patients to take notes during appointments. Listen as Don Rubin PhD, discusses Interactive Health Literacy and Oral Communication (HLOL #35).
- Help older adults (and everyone else) keep track of medications. An example is a chart with spaces to mark each time a person takes medication. Another is a pill box in which medications are presorted by time of day, and day of week. Also provide written information using words and pictures that clearly show medication times and doses. Rebecca Burkholder JD talks about Helping Patients Take Medication Safely and Effectively (HLOL #65). An example of using pictures is AHRQ’s Pill Card.
Health Literacy from A to Z: Practical Ways to Communicate Your Health Message, Second Edition by Helen Osborne includes lots more information about why people struggle to understand health information along with numerous ways to help. Available from most online bookstores.