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Older Adults: Steps to Ensure the Understanding and Use of Health Information

Outlining Goals/Objectives

Think about what you want to learn from or about your population of older adults. How will their responses inform your product development? Prepare a list of questions before you begin drafting and testing your product.

Sample questions to ask older adults or caregivers during planning, design, and development:
  • What is the most important information you want to know about this topic?
  • What will make you stop and pay attention to this information?
  • What do you already know and what would you like to know more about?
  • Where are the best places to make this information available?
  • What are your attitudes/beliefs/values/behaviors regarding this specific health topic?
  • What cultural factors might influence the way the message is received?
  • What do you find difficult to understand about the recommended actions?
  • What are the different ways you want this information presented, such as pamphlets, flyers, videos and web sites?
You can modify these same questions to ask professionals, lay people and volunteers who serve older adults. They can provide valuable comments about what older adults need and want from health information and services.

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Writing the Message

For more information about tips on communication with older adults please visit:

Simply Put- A Guide for Creating Easy-to-Understand Materials [PDF - 1.86MB], CDC

Communicating Risks and Benefits: An Evidence-based User's Guide, Food and Drug Administration

Making Your Printed Health Materials Senior Friendly [PDF - 388KB], NIH National Institute on Aging

Toolkit for Making Written Material Clear and Effective, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services

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Cultural Considerations

Older adults are diverse in many ways some of which include:

When we are "culturally competent," we understand the unique values, beliefs, traditions and customs of individuals and groups and use that knowledge to deliver respectful and responsive health services. The Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services Standards (CLAS) can help you assess if you are providing appropriate information and services.

When it comes to health communication, one message does not fit all. Consider how you can target your health message to fit the needs of your particular group of older adults. This includes not only language barriers but also understanding various groups' values, beliefs and traditional approaches to health. What do they think their options are and how might they choose among them?

Snapshots of Cultural Competency

Training Health Professionals to Reach American Indian/Alaska Native Elders
The New Mexico Geriatric Education Center's online health literacy course is for health care providers and health professional students interested in learning about Health Literacy. The course addresses not only challenges and solutions of health literacy for all, but those specific to AI/AN elders in accessing and utilizing health care systems. The curriculum introduces AI/AN cultural and spiritual belief systems and provides students with communication skills and techniques to reach elders in this population. The course highlights specific issues in clinical and treatment situations as well as community settings. It is ideal for those who serve American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) elders.

Serving Individuals Who Are Deaf and Hard of Hearing
Centralina Area Agency on Aging in Charlotte, North Carolina in partnership with the NC Division of Services for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing – Charlotte Regional location saw a need to better serve the deaf and hard of hearing population in their community. Program staff are currently collaborating by looking at ways to provide Living Healthy (Chronic Disease Self-Management Program) to those who may be deaf or hard of hearing by training leaders and providing the program for participants. Interpreters using sign language would be utilized as necessary.

Improving the Health Literacy Skills of the Spanish-speaking population
The Centralina Area Agency on Aging in collaboration with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Senior Center's Shamrock Multicultural and International Senior Center in Charlotte, NC is working to increase the health literacy skills of its Spanish-speaking population. Health education materials for the evidence-based program "A Matter of Balance: Managing Concerns About Falls" are available in Spanish and the course is taught by bi-lingual leaders. Similarly, an interpreter is present at "lunch and learn" health discussions and during benefits counseling. Materials are distributed in both English and Spanish during presentations.

For more information about cultural competency for professionals who serve older adults visit: Administration on Aging Diversity Toolkit [PDF - 6.71MB]

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Participatory Design

Involving older adults in the planning, design and development phases will help make your information or message more interesting, relevant and useable by the older adults you are trying to reach. This process is often referred to as participatory design. Participatory design allows older adults to be full members in the process of creating and providing access to health information and services.

If you cannot use a fully participatory process, you can use audience or consumer testing and for web sites, usability testing, to find out if your products work for your group of older adults. Usability testing is part of user-centered design (UCD). Testing can help you understand how older adults respond to your message.

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Selecting Participants

How will you find older adults you want to target with your information and messages to test your ideas? Clearly defining your target population of older adults will help you decide how and where to recruit participants. For example, you might recruit older adults from:

Once you decide where you want to recruit your testing population from, you'll need to decide your method of recruitment. Some examples include:

Don't be afraid to use your local contacts! Contact other organizations and members in your community who serve older adults. Brainstorm together the best recruitment strategy.

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Accommodations for Testing

Older adults may have a variety of functional challenges that influence their ability to participate in testing. Along with cognitive, hearing, and visual challenges, physical challenges such as mobility require added accommodations. How will you handle a participant who is disabled or does not have access to transportation? You might decide to provide transportation to the testing site or interview participants at their homes.

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