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Home > Professionals > Communicating with Older Adults
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Department of Health and Human Services
Administration on Aging

Communicating with Older Adults


Each year, the National Aging Services Network (Aging Network) serves eight million older Americans, especially those in greatest social and economic need and approximately one million family caregivers. On a daily basis, the Aging Network addresses issues of how best to communicate with individuals. Health literacy, cultural competency, and meeting the needs of persons with limited English proficiency must all be taken into consideration to ensure effective communications.

This Web page on Communicating with Older Adults offers tools that will help you better meet these everyday challenges:

  • General communication principles
  • Health literacy
  • Plain language
  • Web site design guidelines

General Communication Principles

The principles for communicating with the public apply to all ages. Some of the resources available from the Federal government include:

Health Literacy

Health literacy means being able to find, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions. Health literacy is important because low health literacy is linked to poor health outcomes.

Tools for Improving Health Literacy

Other Resources

  • Video
    For a video overview of health literacy issues go to the Institute of Medicine’s Web site at:
  • Joint Commission Call to Action
    The Joint Commission, an organization that evaluates and accredits health care organizations and programs in the United States, has released a new public policy white paper on health literacy, “‘What Did the Doctor Say?’” Improving Health Literacy to Protect Patient Safety. Click here, for a copy of the white paper from Joint Commission’s Web site.
  • Why is Health Literacy Important for Older Adults
    View the Power Point Presentation, “Why is Health Literacy Important for
    Seniors,” to learn more about why health literacy is important for older
    adults. This presentation was developed by ODPHP. More...
  • Relevance of Health Literacy to Aging and Disability Resource Centers (ADRCs)*
    Download this issue brief which has implications for many in the aging network here. Click here for download. For more information about ADRCs visit:


Plain Language

“Plain language” refers to communication with an audience in a way that they will understand information the first time they read or hear it.

For information on this topic visit: This site also includes a guide about how to write “reader friendly” documents at:

Web Site Design Guidelines

*Note: Aging and Disability Resource Centers (ADRCs) are a cooperative effort of the Administration on Aging and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Grantees in 43 states provide information on, streamlining access to, and assistance with long-term supports and services in 100 locations across the United States through the ADRCs.

Revised 3/21/07(1)

  Last Updated Last Modified: 7/2/2008 10:12:07 AM  
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