Seniors and Health Literacy

Health literacy is an important tool to help seniors remain healthy and independent. Yet only about 3% of people over age 65 have proficient health literacy, while 60% suffer from low health literacy (National Assessment of Adult Literacy 2003).

In addition, age-related decline in hearing, vision, and memory, can further impact seniors’ health literacy. Despite these challenges, there are many effective ways for physicians and service providers to work with seniors to improve health literacy.

Ensure Seniors Can Hear and See
Make Hand-Outs Friendly
Speak to Be Heard
Ensure Comfort
Ensure Understanding
Help Seniors Remember

Ensure Seniors can Hear and See: Reduce background noise by closing the door, turning off loud machines, asking people speaking in the hallways to lower their voices, etc. Make sure the room is well lit, and that the light does not shine in the patient’s eyes.

Make Hand-outs Senior Friendly: Use easy-to-read hand-outs with large type, lots of white space, and high contrast.

Speak to be Heard: Speak clearly and loudly, look at the patient, and do not cover your mouth while speaking (i.e. not behind a clipboard or tablet). As hearing diminishes, we need to “hear” with our eyes so your mouth should always be visible.

Ensure Seniors are Comfortable: Make sure s/he is warm enough, the surface s/he is sitting or lying on is soft enough, etc. Discomfort can be distracting, and can contribute to problems remembering or understanding instructions.

Ensure Understanding: Use the teach-back method and repeat important points, again and again. This is particularly important for instructions!

Help Seniors Remember: Encourage him/her to take notes, or write down important points for them, tell them they can record the visit on their phone or on another device.

Say Ah! provides a range of dynamic health literacy services for seniors and the professionals and organizations that care for them. Click here to learn more.