New tip sheet focuses on writing for an older audience

Liz Seegert

About Liz Seegert

Liz Seegert (@lseegert), is AHCJ’s topic editor on aging. Her work has appeared in NextAvenue.com, Journal of Active Aging, Cancer Today, Kaiser Health News, the Connecticut Health I-Team and other outlets. She is a senior fellow at the Center for Health Policy and Media Engagement at George Washington University and co-produces the HealthCetera podcast.

Photo: Condoriano via Flickr

Photo: Condoriano via Flickr

Most journalists do a great job of writing for their audience. But it can be easy to forget that part of your audience may include older adults who often struggle with issues of health literacy, cognitive impairment or language problems.

As Medicare Open Enrollment season gets underway, this is a good time to consider story structure and how the information seniors may rely on is framed. While most of these tips probably are more applicable to journalists at consumer media, writers for more specialized journals and outlets can also benefit.

Older adults are voracious consumers of news, including health news. But they also are likely to turn to new media for health news, numerous studies have shown. In addition, health literacy difficulties affect more than 77 million U.S. adults, including the growing senior population, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Poor health literacy can compound already challenging health problems. It also is exacerbated by cognitive decline, medication side effects and lack of knowledge about the health care system. Even those with good general literacy skills — that is, how well a person obtains, processes, and understands information — can struggle with health information.

Nearly everyone struggles with health literacy at some point. The U.S. Department of Education estimates that 90 percent of adults age 16 and older have health literacy challenges. Those age 65 and older have lower average health literacy than adults in younger age groups.

As the U.S. health system evolves toward more patient-centric, outcomes-driven care – and with patients now asked to take a more active role in decision making –  the ability to understand, interpret, and act on health information is more vital than ever. A new AHCJ tip sheet provides statistics, resources and a checklist of things to keep in mind when some or all of your audience is older.

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