Understanding and Use of Health Information
Think about what you want to learn from or about the population of older adults that you’re focusing on.
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 websites?
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.
- Use at least 16- or 18-point font to help people with low vision
- Avoid use of all capital letters
- Use common, plain typeface (avoid cursive or fancy script)
- Use 1-inch margins
Layout and Design
- Include tools designed to help people make decisions
- Present information in an order that is logical
- Use headings and subheadings
- Do lists in bullets
- Use plain language; eliminate jargon and technical language
- Use high-contrast color combinations such as black type on a white background
- Choose visual materials that are relevant to topic and audience
- Reflect culture, age, and background
- Make visual materials simple, recognizable, and clear
- Show the actions you want people to take
- Put the most important message at the top or front of your material
- Use active voice
- Present information in a clear and familiar way
- Break lengthy documents into short sections
- Repeat important points to aid in comprehension
For more information about tips on communication with older adults please visit:
- Communicating Risks and Benefits: An Evidence-based User’s Guide, Food and Drug Administration
- Toolkit for Making Written Material Clear and Effective, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services
- Talking With Your Older Patient, A Clinician’s Handbook, NIH National Institute on Aging
- Tips for Improving Communication with Older Patients, NIH National Institute on Aging
Older adults are diverse in many ways, including
- Race and ethnicity
- Attitudes, beliefs, and values
- Sexual orientation
- Place of birth
- Socioeconomic status
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 frame your health message to fit the needs of the population of older adults that you’re focusing on. 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?
For more information about cultural competency for professionals who serve older adults, see the U.S. Administration on Aging’s Toolkit for Serving Diverse Communities.
Involving older adults in the planning, design, and development phases will help make your information or message more interesting, relevant, and usable 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 conduct audience or consumer testing. For websites, consider conducting usability testing. Testing can help you understand how older adults respond to your message.
How will you find older adults who represent the population you’re focusing on and who can test your ideas? Clearly defining your intended population of older adults will help you decide how and where to recruit participants. For example, you might recruit older adults from
- Senior centers
- Senior living communities
- Rehabilitation centers
- Adult day care centers
- Faith-based organizations
- Volunteer groups, such as Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP)
- Local civic organizations
- Health fairs
- Older adult fairs
- Primary care practices
Once you decide where you’ll recruit your testing population, you’ll need to decide your method of recruitment. Some examples include
- Face-to-face recruitment
- Telephone contact
- Flyers or posters
- Referrals from community organizations
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. What arrangements will you make for a participant who has a disability or does not have access to transportation? You might decide to provide transportation to the testing site or interview participants at their homes. Top of Page
Understand Your Audience: Older Adults: Contents