Health Literacy for Older Adults

Resources for Professionals

People 65 and older make nearly twice as many physician office visits per year than adults 45 to 65. However, an estimated two-thirds of older people are unable to understand the information given to them about their prescription medications. Over two thirds of adults over 60 have difficulty using print materials, forms or performing calculations.

It is important to improve health communication as a way to improve the health of older adults. Get a printable PDFof this information here.

Individuals with low health literacy may have difficulty:

  • Locating providers and services
  • Filling out complex health forms
  • Sharing their medical history with providers
  • Seeking preventive health care
  •  Knowing the connection between risky behaviors and health
  • Managing chronic health conditions
  • Understanding directions on medicine

How you can help:

  • ​​Identify patients with limited literacy levels
  • Use simple language, short sentences and define technical terms
  • Supplement instruction with appropriate materials (videos, models, pictures, etc.)
  • Ask patients to explain your instructions (teach back method) or demonstrate the procedure
  • Ask questions that begin with "how" and "what" rather than closed yes/ni questions
  • Organize information so that the most important points stand out and repeat this information
  • Reflect the age, cultural, ethnic and racial diversity of patients
  • For limited English Proficiency (LEP) patients, provide information in their primary language
  • Improve the physical environment by using lots of universal symbols
  • Offer assistance with completing forms

From: Health Resources and Services Administration


Health Literacy Content for Providers 

Health Literacy module from the University of Arizona Center on Aging. 

50 minute webinar on health literacy concepts, data, and great examples of how to improve written teaching tools.

On-line article article from Nursing World that covers aging and learning, with tips on how to modify patient education.

Elder care provider fact sheets and care partner sheets from the University of Arizona, Center on Aging

Health Literacy Content for Providers on Medication Management

Six minute video describing the difficulty using a medication cup for liquid medications, from Heartland TRC.

Four minute video from the American Medical Association with examples of patients' difficulties with medication labels, medical jargon and form.

Longer (24-minute) video from the American Medical Association (AMA) Foundation with examples and tips on how to improve patients' understanding of their health problems and how to take medications.

 Meeting information and resources from the Arizona Be Med Smart Coalition in Pima County.

Patient / Caregiver Resources on Medication Management

Brief 4 minute video for patients on how to ensure that multiple doctors know what the person's medications are.

Tool from AHRQ to create a pill card for a patient; could be used by healthcare provider, patient / family, or caregiver.

Medication Use Safety Training (MUST) for Seniors. This site has articles, fact sheets and tips on medication use plus slides which can be used for classes with older adults.