Health Literacy & Communication
Good communication between the provider, caregiver, and older adult is essential to healthcare management of older adults. Good communication requires awareness and sensitivity to age-related changes. Poor communication with older adults can lead to confusion and non-adherence to treatment.
Providers and caregivers need to assess patient limitations and tailor education to meet patient needs and abilities. For example, older adults may have limited hearing and vision. Hearing limitations require the provider or caregiver to speak slowly, loudly and face the patient. Visual limitations require the care provider to use large print and visual aids for teaching. Older adults also may have difficulty understanding and retaining large amounts of information provided at one time.
Another communication concern is the ability of older adults to read, understand and use health information (known as health literacy). Low health literacy has been associated with negative outcomes including medication non-adherence, medication errors, hospitalizations, and higher healthcare costs (IOM, 2004; Cohen, 2007). Older adults are at risk for low health literacy (Brown et al., 1996). Several reasons for this finding have been identified: many older adults dropped out of school before graduation and never acquired strong reading skills, many tend to watch TV or listen to the radio rather than read causing reading skills to decline from disuse, or since retirement, many have not been exposed to forms and numbers (Osborne, 2005). There are several informal and formal guidelines and tools that providers can use to assess the ability of older adults to read and understand health information. There are also tools to assess the suitability and readability of materials and assist providers in improving the usefulness of materials for older adults with low health literacy (Doak, Doak & Root, 1996).