Older adults and health literacy

As we get older ...


People 65 and older make nearly twice as many physician office visits per year than adults 45 to 65. However, an estimated two-thirds of older people are unable to understand the information given to them about their prescription medications. Over two thirds of adults over 60 have difficulty using print materials, forms or performing calculations.


Older adults have the same health literacy difficulties that younger persons have, but they may be more pronounced.

  • Older adults  often have more than one medical issue; they often take several medications.
  • The older generation may not be comfortable asking questions – they were raised to listen to the health care provider and not question what they hear.
  • With age, vision and hearing may be less effective, making health communication more difficult.

 Tips for communicating with older adults (and adults all ages):

  • Slow down a  little.
  • Suggest that a friend or family member go along to medical appointments.
  • Encourage them to ask questions and take notes.
  • Be aware of issues with vision, hearing, or memory
  • Treat older patients as adults; don’t use materials designed for children.


It is important to improve health communication as a way to improve the health of older adults. Get a printable PDF of this information here.