Academic journal article Online Journal of Issues in Nursing

More Than Words: Promoting Health Literacy in Older Adults

Academic journal article Online Journal of Issues in Nursing

More Than Words: Promoting Health Literacy in Older Adults

Article excerpt

Abstract

Inadequate health literacy disproportionately affects older adults in the United States. The complexities associated with managing chronic disease and the cognitive and sensory changes associated with aging compound the challenges of teaching this highly vulnerable group. In order to enhance comprehension and bring about positive health behavior changes, the nurse must use more than words when teaching an older adult. Multiple teaching strategies that are tailored to accommodate the cognitive, physical, and psychological changes associated with aging, such as clear communication that is purposeful and individualized and a patient-centered approach that demonstrates acceptance and respect, are actions that the nurse must take to promote health literacy in the older adult. This article describes the effect of age-related changes on health literacy, addresses the challenges inherent in communicating with and teaching older adults, and suggests age-appropriate teaching strategies that the nurse can implement to improve the health literacy of an aging patient. Suggestions for evaluating comprehension are also provided.

Key words: health literacy, elderly, geriatric, patient education, older adults

Citation: Speros, C. I., (Sept. 30, 2009) "More than Words: Promoting Health Literacy in Older Adults" OJIN: The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing Vol. 14, No. 3, Manuscript 5. Available: www.nursingworld.org/MainMenuCategories/ANAMarketplace/ANAPeriodicals/OJIN/TableofContents//Vol142009/N 03Sept09/Health-Literacy-in-Older-Adults.aspx

I never know what he says after I leave his office. It's like he's talking Russian. I try to follow what he's saying, but he talks too fast and uses words that mean nothing to me. I don't want him to think I'm stupid... I'm not stupid. I may be old and slow, but I'm not stupid.

L.P.I., 91 years old

College graduate and fluent reader

(personal communication, Feb. 14, 2009)

Older adults are the fastest growing segment of the population in United States (US). Projections forecast that by 2030, 20% of the U.S. population will be age 65 or older (Federal Interagency Forum on Related Statistics, 2008). The 2003 National Assessment of Literacy revealed that only 3% of adults age 65 and older were in health literacy skills (Kutner, Greenberg, Jin, & Paulsen, 2006). health literacy among the elderly is associated with higher rates, an inability to manage chronic diseases, and increased (Baker, et al.f 2007; Gazmarian, Williams, Peel, & Baker, 2003; Sudore et al., 2006). The National Academy for an Aging Society estimates that $73 billion in unnecessary healthcare costs can be attributed to inadequate health literacy through misunderstood health information and subsequent patient noncompliance (Center for Health Care Strategies, 2000). Promoting health literacy in older adults is a public health imperative. Communicating in a manner in which the older adult can understand and use health information is a professional, ethical, and legal responsibility of the nurse. Yet many nurses lack the knowledge and skills that are needed to adapt their routine patient education strategies to effectively meet the specific learning needs of the elderly patient. This article describes the effect of age-related changes on health literacy, addresses the challenges inherent in communicating with and teaching older adults, and suggests ageappropriate teaching strategies that the nurse can implement to improve the health literacy of an aging patient. Suggestions for evaluating comprehension are also provided.

Cognitive Aging: Effect on Health Literacy

Health literacy is defined as the cognitive and social skills which determine the motivation and ability of individuals to gain access to, understand, and use information in ways that promote and maintain good health (World Health Organization, 2009). Being health literate involves a multitude of cognitive processes that are challenging for any one at any age. …

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