Improving Health Literacy in Seniors

What is health literacy and why is it important?

Health literacy is defined as the ability to obtain, understand, and use information and services to inform health-related decisions. An individual’s health literacy is important because older adults and their caregivers need reliable health information to make informed decisions about disease and to promote independence in their own care.  Health literacy is all about effective communication and studies have shown some older adults have difficulty using documents such as forms or charts.

Why do older adults face more challengers in health literacy?

Physiological changes that come with aging can contribute to the ability to learn in older adults. Increasing age can be associated with decrease in vision, hearing, and cognition. There is also a greater tendency to be distracted.

What are some ways to improve health literacy in older adults?

  1. Repeat essential information. Helps to recall short-term memory.
  2. Mid-morning is best. Time of the day when energy levels are high, and learning ability is increased.
  3. Minimize distractions. Minimize interruptions, limit background noise, and always talk face to face.
  4. Use various teaching tools. Everyone has a different learning style. Use pamphlets, brochures, videos, audio, verbal teaching, and diagrams. Include demonstration and have the patient practice the skill with you.
  5. Use simple, concrete verbiage. Put the teaching in terms they can understand and avoid extraneous vocabulary.
  6. Make the information easily visible every day. Keep health information in a location in their home where it is frequently seen. Post it on the refrigerator, at the bedside, or near the phone.
  7. Check for understanding. Ask the patient to explain, in their own words, what they’ve just learned.

Improved health literacy promotes health outcomes. This is why it’s especially important that older adults are able to obtain and understand information so they can contribute to important decisions about their health. Our Happier at Home caregivers can provide a valuable aid while your loved one is learning new information.

Watch the segment on Fox Rochester