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Health Literacy Principles During Older Americans Month

May is Older Americans Month and a good time to remind both health care providers and caregivers to always use health literacy principles when caring for older adults.

Implementing health literacy strategies will benefit all individuals, however, special considerations for clear communication with older adults include accommodating visual, hearing, and cognitive changes.

Older adults (over 65) are the fastest growing population in the United States.1 Precisely at the moment that health issues tend to increase in many older adults, health literacy skills begin to decrease. Changes in memory and cognition abilities, vision, and hearing all impact the ability to understand, recall, and act upon information.

The National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL) reports exactly how many older adults struggle with understanding different methods of communication2:

  • 71% of adults older than age 60 had difficulty in using print materials

  • 80% had difficulty using documents such as forms or charts

  • 68% had difficulty with interpreting numbers and doing calculations

4 Ways health care providers can improve communication with older adults:

  • Use face-to-face, focused communication whenever possible

  • Allow ample time for processing the information provided

  • Use Teach-Back to increase understanding

  • Simplify medication regimens as much as possible

4 Tips for Caregivers of older adults:

  • Build strong community support networks to help minimize social isolation

  • Consider connecting to trusted community health workers or promotoras3 to assist with providing health information

  • Assist with preparing for the health care visit beforehand, such as writing a list of questions

  • Reach out to local programs that have resources designed to assist the older adult with health information and with managing chronic illnesses

Older adults are a vulnerable population and to achieve better health outcomes, everyone—health care providers, caregivers, and community health workers or promotoras—must partner to help reduce the health literacy-related burdens they experience. Using health literacy tools will help older adults achieve better health outcomes.

Contact Health Literacy Partners for development of written resources, e-modules or health literacy education and training for elder care providers, organizations or community health workers.

[1] United States Census Bureau –

[2] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention –

[3] A promotora is a lay Hispanic/Latino community member who receives specialized training to provide basic health education in the community without being a professional healthcare worker.

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