Social Categories

ealth literacy is defined as the cognitive and social skills which determine the motivation and ability of individuals to gain access to, understand, and use information in ways that promote and maintain good health (World Health Organization, 2009). Being health literate involves a multitude of cognitive processes that are challenging for any one at any age. Retrieving prescriptions and referrals, selecting providers from a list of names and addresses, calculating when to take multiple medications, interpreting medical terminology, comparing different insurance plans, and sifting through a myriad of health-related information available in magazines, on the Internet, and on television are just a few of the complex thought processes that are involved in selecting, understanding, and using health-related information. Comprehension, problem-solving, comparing and contrasting, reasoning, computing, adapting, and synthesizing are all higher order cognitive processes required for health literacy. Psychologists agree that although cognitive aging varies between individuals, certain types of cognitive capacities decline with increasing age in most adults (Kintsch, 1998). Older adults tend to process information at a slower pace, have less working memory (the ability to process multiple bits of information at a given moment), and experience difficulty in comprehending abstractions (U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, n.d.). Nurses can assist their older patients to compensate for cognitive aging by using a specific set of teaching and communication techniques. The teaching challenges posed by cognitive declines in fluid intelligence, the older learner’s inability to manage multiple messages at one time, and a decreased capacity to draw conclusions from inference must be addressed to effectively promote health literacy in this population. Each of these challenges will be discussed below.
Processing the Message
Rushing an older adult to demonstrate a new skill can...