Academic journal article American Journal of Health Education

Potential Paradoxical Effects of Myth-Busting as a Nutrition Education Strategy for Older Adults

Academic journal article American Journal of Health Education

Potential Paradoxical Effects of Myth-Busting as a Nutrition Education Strategy for Older Adults

Article excerpt


Medical myth-busting is a common health education strategy during which a health educator highlights common misconceptions about health and then presents evidence to refute those misconceptions. Whereas this strategy can be an effective way to correct faulty health beliefs held by young adults, research from the field of cognitive psychology suggests that normal age-related changes in cognition may diminish the educational efficacy of medical myth-busting for older adults. In the coming years, health educators are going to have increasing numbers of older adult clients. Although health educators are often trained to understand how age-related disease processes affect older adult clients' ability to learn and remember, currently there is little emphasis placed on teaching health educators how normal aging impacts their clients' cognition. We hope that by detailing how normal cognitive aging can reduce the efficacy of a common patient education strategy, we motivate health educators to learn more about how their clients' normal age-related changes in cognition might demand modified educational approaches.


The older population, defined as individuals who are 65 or more years of age, (1) is increasing rapidly in the United States. Current census projections predict that by 2030 there will be 72 million older adults in the United States, more than double the number in 2000. (1) Although this demographic shift toward a "grayer" America in part reflects improved health care knowledge and delivery, it brings new challenges to the health care system. (2) Because older adults are disproportionately affected by chronic diseases that contribute to increased rates of disabilities, increased injuries, and decreased quality of life, the American health care system will be stressed in unprecedented ways. (2) Yet, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) note that there are "critical knowledge gaps" in our ability to help older adults prevent and/or manage both acute and chronic health conditions. (3)

Because even normal aging results in significant physical, social, emotional and cognitive changes, it is imperative that health care workers understand the unique needs of their older adult clients. In response to this concern, the Partnership for Healthy Aging and the American Geriatric Society developed a set of core competencies for all health professionals who care for older adults. (4) These core competencies specify domains of health care in which age-related psychological and physical changes impact how health care workers can best deliver education and treatment to older adult clients. The present paper focuses on one of the themes addressed by these core competencies: the importance of developing communication strategies that are sensitive to age-related changes in cognition. Specifically, we review research from the field of cognitive psychology that describes how age-related changes in cognition could lead a common health education practice, medical myth-busting, to backfire.

Medical myth-busting is an educational practice during which the health educator provides an educational experience in which clients' misconceptions about health are identified and then refuted. In the present paper, we refer to research from the field of cognitive psychology to explain why older adults are more likely than young adults to hold medical misconceptions and how the technique of myth-busting typically works to correct misconceptions. We then describe some age-related changes in cognition, how those changes impact older adults' ability to learn and remember health information, and why those changes might negatively impact the efficacy of myth-busting as way to correct misconceptions. Finally, we conclude the paper with some suggestions about how health educators can apply the information presented here to their practice.


Because older adults are at increased risk for falling prey to quackery, (5-6) it is especially important that health educators find ways to identify and correct health misconceptions held by their older adult clients. …

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