Older Adults: How Do Older Adults Make Decisions?
Older adults are a diverse group of individuals with a unique set of needs and preferences. They often face complex health decisions that involve trade-offs among options that appeal to different values, beliefs and preferences. For example, following an evacuation order during a weather event may fit with their need to feel safe and be responsive to local officials' directions. But evacuation may also separate them from their daily support system, including medical care and informal caregivers. Understanding their situation and what motivates older adults to learn and use health information can help you develop effective health communication materials. Here are some key things to consider before you begin designing your materials:
Make it personal
Older adults prefer information they can relate to and demonstrates respect for their background, knowledge and values. Showing respect and building rapport are important steps in improving communication.
Address common life experiences in your message. For example, many older adults are celebrating their sons' or daughters' marriage, becoming grandparents or retirement. Others may be starting their own business. Think about how you can personalize the lived experience of a 65-year old, which is different than an 80-year old.
For more information about how to personalize your message for your specific population of older adults visit:
CDC Audience Insights
Communicating to Boomers (1946-1962) [PDF - 1.29MB]
Communicating to the Responsible Generation (Aged 64–84) [PDF - 7.21MB]
Make it empowering
Older adults want control of their health. Frame your messages so older adults feel confident they can use the information in a way that will impact their lives.
The National Diabetes Education Program's Small Steps. Big Rewards [PDF - 4.84MB] campaign highlights simple activities older adults can do to prevent or manage their diabetes.
Make it from a trusted source
Older adults are more likely to take action when the health message is from a trusted source. Using survey research findings like those from the Health Information National Trends Survey (HINTS) and asking leaders of organizations that serve older adults can help you determine which sources are credible with the seniors you are targeting.
Make it self-directed
Older adults like learn new health information through a variety of methods. While some may prefer to receive information through spoken or printed words, others may be visual learners and some, a combination of both. Think about using different approaches to present your information, such as pamphlets, brochures, videos and audiotapes.
Make it solution-oriented
Many older adults do not like being bogged down with tons of health information. They prefer quick and clear solutions to their health issues. Provide short, concise health messages that detail the specific action steps your older adult audience must take to achieve the desired health goal.
For more suggestions, see Benbow, A. (2002). Communicating with Older Adults: A Guide for Health Care and Senior service Professionals and Staff. Seattle, Washington: Caresource Healthcare Communications, Inc.
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