Challenges Developing Material to Match Health Literacy Skills

Group of Older Adults sitting in a classroom.

Understanding their situation and what motivates older adults to learn and use health information can help you develop effective health communication materials.

  1. Cognitive Challenges
    Aging results in normal changes in cognition. Three specific changes occur: reduced processing speed, greater tendency to be distracted, and reduced capacity to process and remember new information (working memory).
  2. Visual Challenges
    Many older adults have problems with vision. About 2/3 of adults with vision problems are older than 65.
  3. Hearing Challenges
    Hearing loss is common in older adults, affecting 1 in 3 people older than 60 and half of those older than 85.

The Basics

The following sections address health conditions that can impact older adults’ health literacy. Effective strategies are provided for you to consider when working with older adults.


Cognitive Challenges

  • Repeat essential information
  • Focus on the important meaning of the information, that is, the gist
  • Use plain language
  • Communicate directions and advice that need to be followed
  • Use reminders to aid memory (i.e. brochures, pamphlets)
  • Include skill building with information activities to reinforce meaning

Visual Challenges

  • Make information easy to see and read
    • Contrast: Text should be printed with the highest possible contrast. Very high contrast is done best using black text on a white background.
    • Font Size: 16 to 18 point size font or larger is best to use when developing materials for older adults
    • Spacing Between Lines of Text: People with low vision may have difficulty finding the beginning of the next line when reading, so it is preferable for space between lines of text to be at least 25 percent of the point size
    • Paper Finish: If printing materials for older adults, do not use paper with a glossy finish because it can cause problems with glare.
  • Consider providing audio information whenever necessary
  • Reduce the amount of text

Hearing Challenges

  • Limit background noise
  • Speak clearly with more volume
  • Do not chew gum or eat while speaking
  • Always talk face to face
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Page last reviewed: May 3, 2021