Understanding that older adults have significant
strengths can help you as you assist older adults with issues related to health
and health literacy. Research informs us that cognitive impairment is not an
inevitable part of aging. In fact, older individuals typically use experience,
wisdom, and a positive attitude to successfully navigate life challenges and
Health care professionals, communicators, and
caregivers can help call attention to older adults' strengths. Your assistance
may help empower older adults to take more control over their health
What You Can
Acknowledge older adults'
- Focus on the interests of older adults
and what they can contribute.
- Think of the brain as a muscle that needs
to be exercised to stay in shape.
- Encourage both mental and physical
activity, as well as challenging leisure activities.
- Encourage older adults to put their
energies toward their own interests and to finding new interests.
Facilitate strong social networks.
- Staying in touch with others can keep
older adults from feeling isolated.
- Research has shown that having support
networks may improve health.
Encourage older adults and their
family caregivers to ask questions.
- Emphasize the importance of understanding
information and directions from health care providers.
- Create a shame-free environment where
older adults feel free to ask questions and stay informed.
References for this table: 1,2,3
- Questions Are the Answer is an
initiative from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. It encourages
individuals to improve their health care by asking questions and seeking
information about the health issues that affect them. Visit the site online at
- The Mature Mind, by Gene Cohen, M.D.,
Ph.D., discusses research and theory on the aging brain, including analysis
related to stereotypes and myths about older adults.
A Note on Cultural Competence
Older adults are as culturally diverse as any
group. It is important for professionals working with seniors to recognize and
be respectful of cultural differences, including race, gender, nationality, and
religion. For more information on following these principles, see the Quick
Guide to Health Literacy.
A Note on Navigating the Health Care System
The health care system alone can pose significant
challenges to older adults. Take note of resources available to help seniors
communicate with health care professionals, sign up for needed services, and
learn about their care. For example, the National Institute on Aging has
several helpful publications online at www.nia.nih.gov, including Talking With
Your Doctor: A Guide for Older People and Choosing a Doctor.
- Health literacy problems affect millions
- Seniors face special challenges related
to health literacy.
- Older adults' cognitive abilities do not
- You can take specific steps to improve
health communication with older adults.
- Older adults are valuable resources.
- Information in this section
based on Cohen, GD. The Mature Mind: The Positive Power of the Aging
Brain. New York, NY: Basic Books; 2005.
- Heaney CA, Israel BA. Social
Networks and Social Support. In Glanz K, Rimer BK, Lewis FM (Eds.), Health
Behavior and Health Education: Theory, Research and Practice. 3rd Ed. San
Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass; 2002.
- Agency for Healthcare
Research and Quality. Questions Are the Answer. Available at
Accessed July 2007.