Health literacy and cancer communication with older adults

Lisa Sparks, Jon F. Nussbaum

Research output: Contribution to journalShort surveypeer-review

76 Scopus citations


Objective: The physiological, cognitive, language and communicative changes that take place as we enter into old age have become quite well documented within the social scientific literature. Many of these changes lead in some way to a lessening of previous interactive abilities and competencies. The new mantra for gerontologists attempting to help older adults compensate for these potential losses is to develop strategies to maintain existing abilities as long as possible. Methods: A literature review using online databases was performed. Results: Older adults who are diagnosed with cancer or help care for an individual coping with cancer must confront a health care system that demands a high level of health literacy to successfully manage the disease. Older adults may be at a distinct disadvantage in their ability to successfully cope with cancer because of age-related physiological, cognitive, psychological and communicative factors. Conclusion: This paper highlights the relevant research findings and theoretical positioning that points not only to possible pragmatic dilemmas faced by those adapting to cancer but also highlights streams of research that scholars may wish to focus upon to better understand how older adults and their formal and informal caregivers can improve their cancer health literacy. Practice implications: Providers, patients, and caregivers must all participate in creating a health care environment of shared meaning and understanding of health messages tailored to the aging patient diagnosed with cancer. Health communication scholars have various theoretical, methodological, and pragmatic communication-based approaches that provide important contributions to the complexities of caring for the aging patient.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)345-350
Number of pages6
JournalPatient Education and Counseling
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 1 2008

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Medicine(all)


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