Incorporating health literacy principles into student’s curriculum will improve confidence and overall ability to effectively communicate with older adults
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Purpose: Adults over age 65 are at a higher risk for low health literacy. According to a survey from the National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL), more than half of seniors (59%) have below basic literacy levels. In order to combat this issue, educating health professional students on health literacy strategies can increase the understanding of such disparities, and enhance communication capabilities with seniors. Methods: Students encompassing seven health professions between two universities (n=620) were assembled into interprofessional teams and assigned a senior mentor (n=171). The teams were asked to develop a presentation covering a designated health topic of their mentor’s choice using health literacy principles. Following the presentation, a sampling of the senior mentors (n=75) and all of the students involved were surveyed and results were evaluated for effectiveness. Among the older adults and students, the response rate was 91% and 75% respectively. Results: According to students surveyed, 70% agreed that as a result of this visit, they now understand how to effectively communicate with older adults using health literacy strategies. Seventy-four percent of students also felt more confident about their knowledge of health care needs for older adults.. When reviewing senior mentor responses, 98% said after the presentation, they feel better informed on the given subject. Additionally, 85% were able to recall two pieces of information learned, and 98% feel they will be able to apply what they learned from the presentation to their health. When estimating if any change had occurred because of the presentation, 98% of seniors said they experienced some amount of positive change. Conclusions: Application of health literacy strategies within interprofessional healthcare teams can have a positive effect on future communication and confidence when discussing health matters with older adults.