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Cognitive Health and Older Adults

June 17, 2024

ve health is the ability to think, learn, and remember clearly. It is needed to carry out many everyday activities effectively. Cognitive health is just one aspect of overall brain health.

Many factors contribute to cognitive health. Genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors may contribute to a decline in thinking skills and the ability to perform everyday tasks, such as driving, paying bills, taking medicine, and cooking. Although genetic factors can’t be controlled, many environmental and lifestyle factors can be changed or managed.

Scientific research suggests that there are steps you can take to reduce your risk of cognitive decline and help maintain your cognitive health. These small changes can add up: Making them part of your routine can support your brain function now and in the future.

What is brain health?

Brain health refers to how well a person’s brain functions across several areas. Aspects of brain health inclide:

  • Cognitive health – how well you think, learn, and remember
    • Motor function – how well you make and control movements, including balance
    • Emotional function – how well you interpret and respond to emotions (both pleasant and unpleasant)
    • Tactical function – how well you feel and respond to sensations of touch, including pressure, pain, and temperature
    • Sensory function – how well you see, hear, taste, and detect odors

Brain health can be affected by age-related changes in the brain, injuries such as stroke or traumatic brain injury; mood disorders such as depression, substance use disorder, or addiction; and diseases such as Alzheimer’s and related dementias.

Take care of your physical health

Taking care of your physical health may also help your cognitive health. You can:

Manage high blood pressure

Preventing or controlling high blood pressure not only helps your heart but can also help your brain. Decades of observational studies have shown that having high blood pressure in midlife — from the 40s to the early 60s — increases the risk of cognitive decline later in life. Further, in the large SPRINT MIND study, researchers found that people age 50 and older who lowered their systolic blood pressure to less than 120 mmHg reduced their risk of developing mild cognitive impairment, which is often a precursor to dementia, over five years of treatment.

High blood pressure often does not cause signs of illness that you can see or feel. Annual screenings at your doctor’s office can help determine if your blood pressure is elevated, even though you might feel fine. To control or lower high blood pressure, your doctor may suggest exercise; changes in your diet; and, if needed, medication.

Eat healthy foods

Many studies suggest that a healthy diet can help reduce the risk of many chronic diseases such as heart disease or diabetes.  

In general, a healthy, balanced diet consists of fruits and vegetables; whole grains; lean meats, fish, and poultry; and low-fat or nonfat dairy products. You should also limit solid fats, sugar, and salt. Be sure to control portion sizes and drink enough water and other fluids.

There is also mixed evidence that certain diets can help keep your brain healthy, preserve cognitive function, or reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s. For example, some observational studies reported that people who eat a Mediterranean diet have a lower risk of developing dementia. Another diet, called MIND, is a combination of the Mediterranean and DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diets. The MIND diet has also been associated with a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s and a slower rate of cognitive decline in some studies. Still, despite these promising findings, results are not conclusive. For example, a recent clinical trial found that participants who followed the MIND diet had only small improvements in cognition that were similar to those who followed a control diet with mild caloric restriction.

Researchers continue to study these diets as well as individual foods and dietary supplements to learn more about possible effects on cognitive health.

At this time, no vitamin or supplement is recommended for preventing Alzheimer’s or other forms of cognitive decline. However, recent clinical trials have shown that taking a daily multivitamin may improve memory and cognition in older adults.

Learn more about diet and prevention of Alzheimer’s.

Be physically active

Being physically active — through regular exercise, household chores, or other activities — has many benefits. Physical activities can help you:

  • Maintain and improve your strength
  • Have more energy
  • Improve your balance
  • Prevent or delay heart disease, diabetes, and other disorders
  • Improve your mood and reduce depression

Several studies have supported a connection between physical activity and brain health. For example, one study found that higher levels of a protein that boosts brain health were present in both mice and humans who were more physically active than in sedentary peers. An observational study with cognitively normal, late-middle age participants found that more time spent doing moderate levels of physical activity was associated with a greater increase in brain glucose metabolism — how quickly the brain turns glucose into fuel — which may reduce the risk for developing Alzheimer’s. And a randomized controlled trial showed that exercise can increase the size of a brain structure important to memory and learning, resulting in better spatial memory. Although these results are encouraging, more research is needed to determine what role exercise may play in preventing cognitive decline.

Federal guidelines recommend that all adults get at least 150 minutes (2.5 hours) of physical activity each week. Walking is a good start. You can also join programs that teach you to move more safely and help prevent falls. This is important because falling can lead to serious injury, including injuries to the brain. Check with your health care provider if you are not currently active but want to start a vigorous exercise program.

Keep your mind engaged

Cognitive training, which is designed to improve specific cognitive skills, appears to have benefits for maintaining cognitive health in older adults. A large randomized, controlled trial called the Advanced Cognitive Training for Independent and Vital Elderly (ACTIVE) trial tested the effects of cognitive training — specifically memory, reasoning, or speed of processing — on cognitive abilities and everyday function over 10 years. The study found that participants who had training in reasoning and speed of processing experienced less decline than those in the memory and control groups. Building on the ACTIVE study, NIA is supporting a large clinical trial to assess whether speed of processing training can reduce incidence of cognitive impairment and dementia.

Beware of claims that playing certain computer and online games can improve your memory and thinking. There currently is not enough evidence available to suggest that commercially available computer-based brain-training applications have the same impact on cognitive abilities as the ACTIVE study training.

Staying engaged in other meaningful activities as you grow older may also have important cognitive benefits. For example, one study found that older adults who learned quilting or digital photography had more memory improvement than those who only socialized or did less cognitively demanding activities. Research on engagement in activities such as music, theater, dance, and creative writing has shown promise for improving quality of life and well-being, from better memory and self-esteem to reduced stress and increased social interaction, but more research is needed in these areas.

Overall, it’s important to know that evidence for a lasting beneficial cognitive effect of these types of activities is not definitive. NIA supports expanding studies in this area to include larger numbers of a diverse range of older adults in order to further test how such activities may help reduce cognitive decline or maintain healthy cognition.

Stay connected with social activities

Staying connected with your family, friends, and neighbors through social activities and community programs is a great way to ward off isolation and loneliness. But did you know it may also help support your cognitive function? For example, early results from a clinical trial of almost 200 adults age 75 and older — the Conversational Engagement Randomized Controlled Clinical Trial (I-CONECT) — showed that regular internet calls could help lower the risk of cognitive decline and social isolation. Another example comes from the Health and Retirement Study, a long-term study funded by NIA. Researchers analyzed data from more than 7,000 participants age 65 and older and found that high social engagement, including visiting with neighbors and doing volunteer work, was associated with better cognitive health in later life.

If you would like to strengthen your social connections, consider volunteering for a local organization or joining a group focused on an activity you enjoy, such as walking. You can find available programs through your Area Agency on Aging, senior center, public library, or other community organizations. Increasingly, there are groups that meet online, providing a way to connect from home with others who share your interests or to get support.

Address physical and mental health problems

Many health conditions affect the brain and pose risks to cognitive function. These conditions include:

  • Stroke — can damage blood vessels in the brain and increase risk for vascular dementia.
  • Depression — can lead to confusion or attention problems and has been linked to dementia.
  • Delirium — shows up as a sudden state of confusion, often during a hospital stay, and is frequently followed by cognitive decline or impairment.

If you have symptoms of any of these serious health problems, it is important to seek treatment. Effective management of health conditions like these may help prevent or delay cognitive decline or thinking problems.

Understand how medicines can affect the brain

Some medicines and combinations of medicines can cause confusion, memory loss, hallucinations, and delusions in older adults.

Medicines can also interact with food, dietary supplements, alcohol, and other substances. Some of these interactions can affect how your brain functions. Drugs that can impair older adults’ cognition include:

  • Antihistamines for allergy relief
  • Sleep aids
  • Antipsychotics
  • Muscle relaxants
  • Drugs that treat urinary incontinence
  • Medications for relief of cramps in the stomach, intestines, and bladder

Talk with your doctor if you have any concerns about your medications or possible side effects. Do not stop taking any prescribed medications without consulting your health care provider first.

To learn more, please visit https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/brain-health/cognitive-health-and-older-adults.

Memory, Forgetfulness, and Aging: What’s Normal and What’s Not?

June 10, 2024

Older adults may worry about their memory and other thinking abilities, such as taking longer to learn something new. These changes are usually signs of mild forgetfulness — or age-related forgetfulness — and are often a normal part of aging.

However, more serious memory problems could be due to mild cognitive impairmentdementia such as Alzheimer’s disease, or other factors beyond normal aging.

MEMORY CHANGES WITH AGE

As people grow older, changes occur in all parts of the body, including the brain. As a result, some people notice that they don’t remember information as well as they once did and aren’t able to recall it as quickly. They may also occasionally misplace things or forget to pay a bill. These usually are signs of mild forgetfulness, not a serious memory problem.

It’s normal to forget things once in a while at any age, but serious memory problems make it hard to do everyday things such as driving, using the phone, and finding the way home.

Signs that it might be time to talk with a doctor include:

  • Asking the same questions over and over again
  • Getting lost in places you used to know well
  • Having trouble following recipes or directions
  • Becoming more confused about time, people, and places
  • Not taking care of yourself — eating poorly, not bathing, or behaving unsafely

Talk with a doctor if you are experiencing noticeable changes in your memory. A doctor can perform tests and assessments to help determine the source of memory problems. Your health care provider may also recommend that you see a neurologist, a doctor who specializes in treating diseases of the brain and nervous system.

You may also wish to talk with your doctor about opportunities to participate in research on cognitive health and aging.

TIPS FOR DEALING WITH FORGETFULNESS

There are a variety of techniques that may help you stay healthy and deal better with changes in memory and mental skills. Here are some tips:

  • Learn a new skill.
  • Follow a daily routine.
  • Plan tasks, make to-do lists, and use memory tools such as calendars and notes.
  • Put your wallet or purse, keys, phone, and glasses in the same place each day.
  • Stay involved in activities that can help both the mind and body.
  • Volunteer in your community, at a school, or at your place of worship.
  • Spend time with friends and family.
  • Get enough sleep, generally seven to eight hours each night.
  • Exercise and eat well.
  • Prevent or control high blood pressure.
  • Avoid or limit alcohol.
  • Get help if you feel depressed for weeks at a time.
  • Mild cognitive impairment
  • Some older adults have a condition called mild cognitive impairment — MCI — meaning they have more memory or thinking problems than other people their age. People with MCI can usually take care of themselves and are able to carry out their day-to-day tasks. MCI may be an early sign of Alzheimer’s disease, but not everyone with MCI will develop Alzheimer’s.
  • If you’re experiencing changes in your memory or think you may have MCI, talk with your doctor. Learn more about the symptoms of MCI.
  • Dementia versus age-related forgetfulness
  • Forgetfulness can be a normal part of aging. However, dementia is not a normal part of aging. Dementia includes the loss of cognitive functioning — thinking, remembering, learning, and reasoning — and behavioral abilities to the extent that it interferes with a person’s quality of life and activities. Memory loss, though common, is not the only sign of dementia. People with dementia may also have problems with language skills, visual perception, or paying attention. Some people experience personality changes.
  • There are different types of dementia, including Alzheimer’s diseaseLewy body dementiafrontotemporal dementia, and vascular dementia, and symptoms may vary from person to person. The chart below compares some differences between normal aging and the signs of dementia.

WHAT ELSE CAN AFFECT MEMORY?

It’s possible for memory problems to stem from factors unrelated to dementia or normal aging. For example, medical conditions, such as depression or blood clots, can cause memory problems. These problems usually go away once the condition is successfully treated.

Factors that may cause memory problems include:

Major, traumatic, or stressful life events can also cause memory problems. For example, someone who has recently retired or who is coping with the death of a spouse may feel sad, lonely, worried, or bored. Stress and negative emotions are powerful. Trying to deal with such life changes and emotions leaves some people confused or forgetful.

These memory problems from negative emotions are usually temporary and will improve as the stress and emotions fade. Being active, socially engaged, and experiencing a sense of accomplishment by learning new skills can help with both memory and improving mood. If memory problems persist after a few weeks, talk with your doctor as this may be a sign of something more serious.

Finding the cause of memory problems is important for determining the best course of action. Once the cause is diagnosed, you and your doctor can determine the best treatment plan. People with memory problems should make a follow-up appointment to check their memory every six to 12 months.

To learn more, please visit https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/memory-loss-and-forgetfulness/memory-problems-forgetfulness-and-aging.

Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month 2024

June 3, 2024

In recognition of Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month in June, NIA is raising awareness about Alzheimer’s disease among the Latino community including Latinos living with dementia, their caregivers, and their families. Throughout the month we will share information, research, and resources on dementia, caregiving, and clinical trials in English and Spanish using the #NIAAlzheimers hashtag. Each week will focus on a different topic related to Alzheimer’s:

  • June 3-7: Learn about the basics of Alzheimer’s disease and risk in the Latino community
  • June 10-14: Explore Alzheimer’s causes and tips for reducing risk
  • June 17-21: Find resources for caregivers
  • June 24-28: Get the facts on clinical trials

How To Participate?

Everyone can play a role in promoting dementia resources. Consider taking the following actions:

  • Help spread the word by sharing NIA’s X and Facebook posts and follow NIA on X and Facebook.
  • Use the #NIAAlzheimers hashtag to follow along and share your own resources.
  • Share NIA’s infographics and videos or use one of the following sample posts:
    • Join @NIHAging throughout June for a conversation on #Alzheimers, #ClinicalTrials, and #caregiving among the Latino community. Each week NIA will share tips and resources in English and Spanish. Don’t miss out on this valuable conversation! #NIAAlzheimers https://go.nia.nih.gov/3wD1rOd 
    • We are excited to celebrate #AlzheimersAndBrainAwarenessMonth this June. Follow @NIHAging and #NIAAlzheimers for a bilingual conversation on #Alzheimers, #ClinicalTrials, and more all month long! https://go.nia.nih.gov/3wD1rOd

Health Professionals and Community Organizations

If you’re a health care professional or organization that works closely with the Latino community, NIA offers free print publications in English and Spanish and you can request copies of NIA’s Spanish and English resources postcard to distribute at your clinic, health fairs, or other community events. You can also explore more resources for providers.

To learn more, please visit https://www.nia.nih.gov/news/alzheimers-and-brain-awareness-month-2024.

Preventing Falls at Home: Room by Room

May 28, 2024

Many falls happen at home, where we spend much of our time and tend to move around without thinking about our safety. There are many changes you can make to your home that will help prevent falls and better ensure your safety.

On this page:

Floors, stairways, and hallway

  • Ensure there are handrails on both sides of any stairs, and make sure they are secure. Hold the handrails when you go up or down stairs, even when you are carrying something. Don’t let anything you’re carrying block your view of the steps.
  • Ensure there is good lighting with light switches at the top and bottom of stairs and on each end of a long hall. Consider using motion-activated lights that plug into electrical outlets and automatically turn on when you walk by them to help illuminate stairwells and pathways.
  • Keep areas where you walk tidy. Don’t leave books, papers, clothes, or shoes on the floor or stairs.
  • Check that all carpets are fixed firmly to the floor, so they won’t slip. Put no-slip strips, which you can buy at any hardware store, on tile and wooden floors.
  • Don’t use throw rugs or small area rugs.
  • Don’t walk on slippery, newly washed floors.

Bathrooms

  • Mount grab bars near toilets and on both the inside and outside of your tub and shower.
  • Place nonskid mats, strips, or carpet on all surfaces that may get wet.
  • Remember to leave a light on in the bathroom at night or use a night light that turns on automatically in the dark.

Bedrooms

  • Put night lights and light switches close to your bed.
  • Keep a flashlight by your bed in case the power goes out and you need to get up.
  • Place a landline or well-charged phone near your bed.

Kitchen

  • Keep frequently used pots, pans, and kitchen utensils in a place where they are easy to reach.
  • Clean up spills immediately.
  • Prepare food while seated to prevent fatigue or loss of balance.

Outdoor spaces

  • If you have steps leading to your front door, make sure they are not broken or uneven.
  • Add non‐slip material to outdoor stairways.
  • Keep the lawn, deck, or porch areas clear of debris, such as fallen branches.
  • Consider installing a grab bar near the front door to provide balance while you are locking or unlocking the door.
  • Turn on your porch light at night and if you leave during the day but plan on returning home after dark.
  • In the winter, treat outdoor walkways with an ice melt product or sand to make them less slippery.

Other living areas

  • Keep electrical cords near walls and away from walking paths.
  • Arrange your furniture (especially low coffee tables) and other objects so they are not in your way when you walk.
  • Make sure your sofas and chairs are the right height for you to get in and out of easily.
  • Keep items you use often at waist level or within easy reach.
  • Don’t stand on a chair or table to reach something that’s too high — use a “reach stick” instead or ask for help. Reach sticks are special grabbing tools that you can buy at many hardware or medical-supply stores. If you use a step stool, make sure it’s steady and has a handrail on top. Have someone stand next to you.
  • Don’t let your cat or dog trip you. Know where your pet is whenever you’re standing or walking.
  • Keep a list of emergency numbers in large print near each landline phone and save them under “favorites” on your mobile phone.

If you have fallen, your doctor might suggest that an occupational therapist, physical therapist, or nurse visit your home. These health care providers can assess your home’s safety and advise you about making changes to lower your risk of falls.

Tools to get help

Read and share this infographic and help spread the word about how to help prevent falls.

If you’re concerned about falling, set up systems to ensure you can get help if you fall. One option is installing an emergency response system. If you fall or need emergency help, you push a button on a special necklace or bracelet to alert 911. There is a fee for this service, and it’s usually not covered by insurance.

Another option is to carry a well-charged cordless or mobile phone with you as you move throughout the house. Have close friends and family on speed dial. Consider setting up a smart home device (a small speaker that listens and responds to commands when you call its name) that can quickly connect you to contacts or emergency response teams. Some smartwatches can be set up to make emergency calls at the push of a button and others can even detect sudden fall-like movements and automatically call for help. Ask family and friends for help setting up these tools.

Home improvement resources

Many state and local governments have education and/or home modification programs to help older people prevent falls. Check with your local health department, search the Eldercare Locator, or call 800-677-1116 to find your local Area Agency on Aging to see if there is a program near you.

To learn more, please visit https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/falls-and-falls-prevention/preventing-falls-home-room-room.

Healthy Aging Tips for the Older Adults in Your Life

May 21, 2024

If you have older family members or loved ones, you may worry about their health as they age. Aging increases the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, arthritis, cancer, and dementia. The good news is that adopting and maintaining a few key behaviors can help older adults live longer, healthier lives. As a family member, it’s important to encourage healthy lifestyle behaviors in your loved ones — it’s never too late to start!

Healthy behavior changes can help older adults live more independently later in life. That’s important both for their quality of life and for yours. If a family member loses independence — whether it’s due to disability or chronic disease — you may find yourself in a caregiving role earlier than expected, which can affect family dynamics as well as finances.

So what can you do to help the older adults in your life manage their health, live as independently as possible, and maintain quality of life as they age? Read on to learn about four ways to help support and promote healthy habits in your older loved ones’ lives.

PREVENT SOCIAL ISOLATION AND LONELINESS

As people age, they often find themselves spending more time alone. Poor health, the death of a partner, caring for a loved one, and other situations that are more likely as people age can all lead to being socially isolated or feeling lonely.

Although they sound similar, social isolation and loneliness are different. Loneliness is the distressing feeling of being alone or separated, while social isolation is the lack of social contacts and having few people to interact with regularly. Increased social isolation and loneliness are associated with higher risks for health problems, such as depression; heart disease; and cognitive decline, which is a decrease in the ability to think, learn, and remember.

As a family member, you can play an important role in helping the older adults in your life to stay socially connected. Here are some ways you can help:

  • Schedule daily, weekly, or biweekly phone calls or video chats.
  • Encourage them to seek out others with shared interests, such as through a garden club, volunteer organization, or walking group.
  • Search the Eldercare Locator or call 800-677-1116. The Eldercare Locator is a nationwide service that connects older adults and their caregivers with trustworthy local support resources.

Find additional tips to help your loved one stay socially connected.

PROMOTE PHYSICAL ACTIVITY

There are lots of reasons to make physical activity a part of daily life. Exercise can help reduce levels of stress and anxiety, improve balance and lower risk of falls, enhance sleep, and decrease feelings of depression. Most importantly, people who exercise regularly not only live longer, but also may live better — meaning they enjoy more years of life with less pain or disability. On the other hand, lack of physical activity can lead to increased visits to the doctor, more hospitalizations, and increased risk of certain chronic conditions.

Encouraging the older adults in your life to exercise may not be easy — it can be difficult to get someone to start a new activity — but the rewards are worth the effort. Following are some suggestions to help encourage exercise or other daily movement:

  • Help your loved ones aim for a mix of activities, including aerobics, strength training, balance, and flexibility. This could include walking around the neighborhood, lifting weights, gardening, or stretching.
  • Discuss how much activity is recommended and brainstorm ways to work it into their daily lives. Experts recommend at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise, and muscle-strengthening activities at least two days each week.
  • Help them shop for appropriate clothing and equipment for their exercise activities. Remember, many activities don’t require expensive equipment. For example, they can use filled water bottles as weights for strength training or walk outside or at a mall rather than on a treadmill.
  • Share your favorite activities that get you moving. Are there any you could do together? If so, that’s a bonus because you’re not only helping promote physical activity but also helping to prevent loneliness and social isolation.

Learn more about the different types of exercises and find examples to help get started.

ENCOURAGE HEALTHY EATING

Healthy eating is an important part of healthy aging. As with exercise, eating well is not just about weight. Having a healthy diet can help support muscles and strengthen bones, which can help with balance and independence. A nutritious diet involving a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, and lean proteins also can help boost immunity and lower the risk of certain health problems such as heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, type 2 diabetes, stroke, and some cancers.

While it can be meaningful to share meals based on traditional family recipes, in some cases, those favorite dishes can be loaded with unhealthy fats and sugars. Changing long-held habits can be tough, but before you know it, there may be some new favorite foods on the table! Consider these tips to help incorporate a healthy diet in your loved ones’ routines:

  • Take them on a trip to the grocery store and pick out healthy options.
  • Discuss their favorite traditional recipes and talk about whether you can make them healthier; for example, by substituting olive oil for butter, or yogurt for sour cream.
  • Visit them once a week and make a healthy meal together. Consider cooking extra and packaging leftovers so they have individual servings to enjoy later in the week.
  • Look inside their fridge and pantry when you visit. You can check for healthy options, and also ensure they aren’t eating expired food or drinks.
  • Encourage them to talk with their doctor or pharmacist about their diet and any vitamin and mineral supplements they may need.

Learn more about healthy eating patterns and ways to create a nutritious meal plan.

SCHEDULE REGULAR CHECK-UPS WITH A DOCTOR

It’s important for your older loved ones to have regular health exams and medical screenings. Visit MedlinePlus to learn about health screenings for women and men. Checking in with doctors annually, and possibly more often, depending on overall health, may help reduce risk factors for disease such as high blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Regular check-ups can also help catch concerns early and improve the chances for effective treatment.

Some people visit their doctors routinely, while others avoid these types of appointments at all costs. Here are some ways to support your family members’ visits with health care providers:

  • Encourage them to reach out to their doctor immediately if they’re experiencing pain or any new symptoms.
  • Ask about their upcoming visits to doctors, including any specialists. Do they have the appropriate appointments scheduled and marked on a calendar? Do they need any help scheduling appointments?
  • Offer to drive them to the appointment, or even go with them and take notes.
  • Ask about communication with their health care providers. Are the doctors responsive to their questions?
  • Help them manage medications if needed. Make sure they maintain a current list of their medications, including both prescription and over-the-counter medications and any supplements, and are sharing this list with their health care providers.
  • Ask your older family member if they’d feel comfortable allowing you or another family member access to their medical records and permission to talk with their doctors. This could help them stay on top of their appointments and medications.

Find tips to help prepare for a doctor’s appointment.

HOW CAN I ENCOURAGE HEALTHY BEHAVIORS FROM AFAR?

Even if you don’t live close to your parents or other aging family members, you can still help promote healthy habits in their lives. Schedule phone calls to check in and ask about their daily meals, how active they are, and if they’re taking their medications properly. After your discussion, if needed, you can gently talk with them about ways to incorporate healthier approaches. If your family member uses video technology for visits with health care professionals, you could join them to help take notes and ask questions. If you can’t visit your loved ones frequently, ask a trusted family member or friend who is close by to check in on them.

Learn more about long-distance caregiving.

Behavior changes can be difficult and take time. If you’re committed to helping your older loved ones adopt healthier lifestyles, try to be patient. If something isn’t working right away, stick with it or try a different approach. Your support and encouragement can make a difference!

To learn more, please visit https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/caregiving/healthy-aging-tips-older-adults-your-life

Healthy Meal Planning: Tips for Older Adults

May 13, 2024

Eating healthfully and having an active lifestyle can support healthy aging. Use the resources below to learn about different patterns of healthy eating and ways to create a nutritious meal plan.

Older adults’ unique nutrition needs

Simple adjustments can go a long way toward building a healthier eating pattern. Follow these tips to get the most out of foods and beverages while meeting your nutrient needs and reducing the risk of disease:

Read and share this infographic and spread the word about ways that may help foster healthy aging.

  • Enjoy a variety of foods from each food group to help reduce the risk of developing diseases such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease. Choose foods with little to no added sugar, saturated fats, and sodium.
  • To get enough protein throughout the day and maintain muscle, try adding seafood, dairy, or fortified soy products along with beans, peas, and lentils to your meals. Learn more about protein and other important nutrients.
  • Add sliced or chopped fruits and vegetables to meals and snacks. Look for pre-cut varieties if slicing and chopping are a challenge for you.
  • Try foods fortified with vitamin B12, such as some cereals, or talk to your doctor about taking a B12 supplement. Learn more about key vitamins and minerals.
  • Reduce sodium intake by seasoning foods with herbs and citrus such as lemon juice.
  • Drink plenty of water throughout the day to help stay hydrated and aid in the digestion of food and absorption of nutrients. Avoid sugary drinks.

It can be hard for some people to follow through on smart food choices. Read about common roadblocks and how to overcome them and check out the USDA’s tips for older adults.

USDA Food Patterns

Eating habits can change as we grow older. The USDA has developed Food Patterns to help people understand different ways they can eat healthy. The food patterns include:

  • Healthy U.S.-Style Eating Pattern: This is based on the types of foods Americans typically consume. The main types of food in this eating pattern include a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fat-free or low-fat dairy, seafood, poultry, and meat, as well as eggs, nuts, seeds, and soy products. Check out this sample menu to get started.
  • Healthy Mediterranean-Style Eating Pattern: This one contains more fruits and seafood and less dairy than the Healthy U.S.-Style Eating Pattern.
  • Healthy Vegetarian Eating Pattern: This pattern contains no meat, poultry, or seafood, but does contain fat-free or low-fat dairy. Compared with the Healthy U.S.-Style Eating Pattern, it contains more soy products, eggs, beans and peas, nuts and seeds, and whole grains.

Visit the USDA Food Patterns webpage for more information on each eating pattern and recommended daily intake amounts for each food group.

Meal planning

Read and share this infographic to learn about making healthier food choices as you age.

Answering the question “what should I eat?” doesn’t need to leave you feeling baffled and frustrated. In fact, when you have the right information and motivation, you can feel good about making healthy choices. Use these tips to plan healthy and delicious meals:

  • Plan in advance. Meal planning takes the guesswork out of eating and can help ensure you eat a variety of nutritious foods throughout the day.
  • Find budget-friendly foods. Create a shopping list in advance to help stick to a budget and follow these SNAP-friendly recipes.
  • Consider preparation time. Some meals can be made in as little as five minutes. If you love cooking, or if you’re preparing a meal with or for friends or family, you may want to try something a little more challenging.
  • Keep calories in mind. The number of calories people need each day varies by individual. Always discuss your weight and fitness goals with your health care provider before making big changes. Read about calorie goals and healthy food swaps.

Find Recipes

When planning meals, looking for recipes that sound delicious to you can be a good place to start. The USDA features the MyPlate Kitchen, a resource that helps you find healthy recipes that fit your nutrition needs and create a shopping list. The MyPlate Plan tool will create a customized food plan for you based on your age, height, weight, and physical activity level.

Some of the recipes available at MyPlate Kitchen include:

  • 20-Minute Chicken Creole: This Creole-inspired dish uses chili sauce and cayenne pepper. It can be cooked on the stovetop or with an electric skillet in just 20 minutes.
  • Five A Day Salad: This nutrient-packed salad uses 10 different vegetables, and each serving is equal to five cups of vegetables.
  • Apple Carrot Soup: Ginger and orange peel are the secret ingredients to this pork, apple, and carrot soup.

When you create your shopping list, don’t forget nutritious basics such as fresh fruits and vegetables and whole-grain bread. This sample shopping list (PDF, 108 KB) includes a variety of healthy foods you may want to have in your kitchen.

Sample menus

Here are some meal options for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks, including links to recipes as well as simpler choices that can be put together without a recipe.

DinnerSnack
Chicken breast, roasted vegetables, hummus Roasted salmon, zucchini, and sweet potato Whole-wheat pasta, ground turkey, and tomato sauce Argentinean grilled steak with salsa criolla Eve’s tasty turkey tetrazzini Fish with spinachBaby carrots and hummus Celery with natural peanut butter Fruit and yogurt Banana cocoa yogurt pops Chili popcorn Yummy bean dip

National Nurses Week 2024: Deals, Discounts, Gifts & Freebies!

May 8, 2024

We are preparing for an amazing celebration of National Nurses Week this year! Many companies are showing their gratitude for nurses and healthcare workers by offering awesome deals and freebies during Nurses Week and throughout the year. Whether you are a healthcare worker looking for a good deal or you’re shopping for a healthcare hero in your life, check out these great deals!

Electronics & Technology

  • Verizon – Nurses and their families can get welcome unlimited for $20 per line for four lines. Available for new or existing customers. The new discounts will be available to eligible new and existing Verizon customers. Must confirm eligibility through ID.me. Nurses can also get Verizon’s Fios 1 Gig Internet plan for $49.99/month.
  • AT&T Wireless – During Nurse/Physician Appreciation Week, nurses, physicians, and their families get 25% off their best-unlimited plans.
  • Bose – Nurses will get a special discount on orders of $199 or more. Verification with ID.me.
  • Lenovo – Save an extra 5% off new tech like smartphones, laptops, and more with ID.me during checkout.
  • Ring.com Doorbell – One-time discount on select Ring.com purchases after verification with VerifyPass. 
  • SONOS – 15% off for nurses through the ID.me page. 
  • PC Liquidations – Healthcare workers receive 10% off any refurbished gadget products with no minimum purchase.
  • MedShop – Nurses can get 10% off on nursing scrubs and other product lines through May 19 by using the discount code “NURSE2024”.
  • Therabody – Therabody is offering 20% off regular-priced Theragun or Theraone CBD for nurses.
  • Philips – Philips is offering 25% off purchases. Use ID.me for verification.
  • Samsung – Samsung offers up to 30% off for all first responders.
  • iRobot – iRobot offers up to 15% off select robots for nurses.
  • Leatherman – Leatherman offers 30% off multi-tools for all healthcare professionals.

Scrubs

  • Figs Scrubs – Get a 20% OFF discount on Figs scrubs. 
  • Jaanuu Scrubs – Get a 30% OFF discount on Jaanuu scrubs.
  • Fabletics Scrubs – Nurses Week promo (20% off scrubs + free embroidery) for VIP Members only May 6-12. Our activating offer for those who want to become a VIP Member is $19 for a set
  • OliveUs Scrubs – Get a 10% OFF on OliveUs scrubs.
  • Dickies – Get a 20% discount on scrubs from May 1 – May 14.
  • AllSeasonsUniforms.com – Get a 20% OFF discount on our medical scrubs and lab coat lines.

Food & Dining

  • Buffalo Wild Wings – Nurses get 20% off their orders from May 6-12. 
  • Chick-Fil-A – Chick-fil-A doesn’t offer a national nurses’ week discount, but local franchises do. Check their website to find your local restaurant.
  • Chipotle – Chipotle is continuing its annual recognition of the healthcare community by awarding 100,000 healthcare workers with free burrito e-cards, equivalent to over $1M in free food. From Monday (5/6) through Friday (5/10), healthcare workers can sign up for a chance to win a free burrito e-card. Read more about Chipotle’s Nurses Week deals.
  • Cinnabon – Nurses get a FREE Classic cinnamon roll or a Minibon roll, at select locations. 
  • Dunkin Donuts – Get a FREE medium hot/iced coffee on May 6 at select locations. No purchase necessary.
  • MOD Pizza – MOD Pizza is recognizing both teachers and nurses with a BOGO deal available from May 6th to 9th.
  • G.O.A.T. Fuel – Get this health-forward energy drink from NFL G.O.A.T. Jerry Rice and his daughter Jaqui Rice Gold for 15% off. 
  • Outback Steakhouse – Get 10% off your entire check with a valid medical ID.
  • Mrs. Fields  Cookies – Save as much as 25% off the entire Heroes Collection of gifts for Nurses weeks. 
  • Texas de Brazil – Bring your ID to any Texas de Brazil locations in the continental U.S. to get 15% off your dine-in dinner or lunch for up to 4 people. (Not valid on U.S. holidays.)
  • Kind – Kind has not announced their nurse’s week discount yet, check back for updates. 
  • Thrive Market – Thrive Market offers free memberships to nurses. Use ID.me for verification.
  • Hello Fresh – Hello Fresh is offering 55% off and free shipping on their first Hello Fresh box. Plus ongoing 15% off for all nurses. 
  • Yogurtland – Nurses get FREE delivery on orders of more than $15 made through the website or mobile app (use the code FREEDELIVERY).

Shoes

  • STAND+ (formerly Gales) – STAND+ is giving away 5 pairs of our new AntiGrav1 style using this application. The contest will be open from the 6th-12th and winners will be contacted on the 17th. 
  • Crocs Shoes – 15% off after verifying your ID through SheerID.
  • NurseMates.com – Get a 25% OFF discount for Nurses Appreciation from 4/26 – 5/12. Use code: NURSE25
  • AlignShoe.com – Get a 25% OFF discount for Nurses Appreciation from 4/26 – 5/12. Use code: NURSE25
  • Clove Shoes – Get a FREE pair of socks with your purchase.
  • Clove x Owala Nurse Week Collaboration – In addition to this limited edition collaboration, the first 500 purchases will be able to secure an exclusive bundle: The Limited-edition Owala® FreeSip® 24oz bottle plus a FREE Clovey™ shoe accessory in Owala® bottle design.
  • The Good Feet Store – From May 6th to May 12th, with a valid nurse’s ID and the purchase of a Good Feet Arch Support System, nurses will receive three pairs of OS1st Comfort socks and a pair of architek Comfort Slip-On shoes completely free!
  • Nike – After verification through SheerID, get a 10% off discount code. 
  • Asics Shoes – Nurses and medical professionals get 25% off full-priced products at Asics. You’ll need to verify with SheerID to get a one-time promo code. 
  • Adidas – Nurses and medical professionals get 30% off in-store and on the Adidas website, along with 20% off at factory outlet stores with ID.me
  • Reebok – Get an impressive 50% off discount online after verification. 
  • Nurse Mates Shoes – NurseMates.com and AlignShoe.com will both be running a 25% off promotion for Nurses Appreciation! 4/26 – 5/12 with code: NURSE25
  • Rothy’s – Verify your ID to get 20% off any pair of shoes. Limit one discount code per person per calendar year.
  • Hunter Boots – Score 20% off. 
  • Uni Shoes – 15% off with discount code: NURSEORG

Stethoscopes

  • Eko Stethoscope – Month-long E-commerce Promotions (5/1-5/31) – Free Case with purchase of the CORE 500™ or 3M™ Littmann® CORE Digital Stethoscope. Plus save $80 on the 3M™ Littmann® CORE Digital Stethoscope all month long.
  • MDF Stethoscopes – Celebrate Nurses Week and shop select glitter stethoscopes on sale at 30% off while supplies last! Add a free large case and free engraving for a total savings value of $104. Nurses Week Sale 5/5-5/11 – Free Engraving on all stethoscopes. Plus, save $30 on the CORE 500™ Digital Stethoscope. Don’t see the glitter stethoscope of your dreams? Get a free large case and free engraving with any ProCardial® Titanium Mprint printed stethoscope and save $44! 

Furniture, Bedding & Home Goods

Glasses & Eyewear

Apparel

Wellness – Vitamins & Supplements

  • replenishift – During the month of May, use code NURSEWEEK2024 for 30% off, plus a free gift with purchase!
  • Pachamama CBD Oil – 30% off for all frontline workers: get it here.
  • GNC – GNC is giving 10% off purchases. Use ID.me for verification. 
  • Ritual – Ritual is giving 20% off your first three months. Use ID.me for verification. 
  • Natural Cycles – Natural Cycles: Healthcare workers & first responders get 20% off.

Tumblers & Drinkware

  • Stanley – Stay hydrated with a new Stanley that’s up to 20% off through ID.me. 
  • Yeti – Shop for coolers, tumblers, drinkware, and more for 20% off through ID.me. 

Study Guides & NCLEX Prep

  • Nursing.com – NURSING.com FREE Access. 2,500+ Clear, Concise, Visual Nursing School/NCLEX Videos.  10 Minutes Of FREE Video Viewing Unlocked Every Day.
  • Simplenursing.com – Get 35% off on SimpleNursing memberships from 5/3 to 5/10
  • Nurseinthemaking.com – Get 10% off your next purchase of Custom-Made Nursing School Study Guides on NurseInTheMaking.com. May 6 – Sunday, May 12, get 15% OFF all physical products and 20% off all digital products. 

Entertainment & Sporting Events

Nurse Appreciation Nights at Baseball Games Across The Country!

Nurse.org teamed up with MLB teams across the country to offer special discounts, recognition, and appreciation events for nurses during Nurse’s Month in May 2024! Buy DISCOUNT tickets, vote for nurses to throw the first pitch, and get all the details about Nurse Night in a city near you. 

Beauty Products & Cosmetics

  • Tula – Tula Skincare is giving 20% off purchases for nurses. Use ID.me for verification.
  • Josie Maran – Josie Maran is giving 10% off purchases. Use ID.me for verification.
  • Grande Cosmetics – Grande Cosmetics is giving 15% off purchases. Use ID.me for verification.
  • e.l.f – E.l.f is giving nurses 25% off purchases.
  • Beekman – Beekman is giving 20% off purchases. Use ID.me for verification.
  • Hairstory – Hairstory is giving 15% off purchases. Use ID.me for verification. 
  • Colorescience – Colorescience will apply a 15% discount on purchases after verification through ID.me 
  • R + Co – R + Co is giving 20% off purchases. Use ID.me for verification.
  • Joy Organics – Joy Organics is giving 50% off purchases. Use ID.me for verification. 

Travel & Vacations

  • Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin – Walt Disney World has multiple discounts available when booking using code “Y7N.” Valid ID must be shown at check-in. 
  • Hotwire – Hotwire offers 10% off “Hot Rate” hotel and car deals after verification. Use ID.me for verification.
  • Budget – Verified ID.me nurses receive up to 25% off on a rental car at locations nationwide. 
  • Wyndham – How does a complimentary Gold membership sound? It’s yours as a healthcare worker! All you have to do is sign in and describe your job. 
  • Great Wolf Lodge – Great Wolf Lodge is offering savings of up to 25% off your next getaway. Use promo code “HEROES”
  • Caesars – Caesars offers nurses up to 30% off hotel stays. Use ID.me for verification.
  • Paris Las Vegas – For more Las Vegas fun, score 30% off on a luxury room through ID.me
  • Caribe Royale Orlando / Buena Vista Suites – Nurses can receive 20% off the Best Available Rate year-round at both resorts. Valid for up to 2 Rooms. Caribe Royale Orlando: https://bit.ly/3QTJcf4 Buena Vista Suites:  https://bit.ly/3YSq2Ir 

Other Nurses Week Awards & Freebies

  • Bayada Giveaway:
    • 25 winners will receive a $300 gift package! Enter to win at nursesweek.com – gift packages include:
      • Keep Calm and Lead On:  Drinkware | The North Face backpack | Compression socks | Beats Pro headphones
      • Healing Meals:  Smart meat thermometer | Omaha Steaks | Vegetable chopper | Pasta machine
      • Rise & Thrive:  Drinkware | Herschel Supply Co. backpack | Apple Watch
      • Get in Your Comfort Zone:  Tea mug Massage gun | Organic tea sampler | Blanket | UGG pillows
      • Refine Your Shine:  Drinkware | The North Face backpack | Premium bento box | Bose noise-cancelling headphones
  • Vivian Nurses Week Leadership Award: 
    • Vivian is launching its Nurses Week Leadership Award, giving away $5,000 to one outstanding nurse to offset their student loan debt:
    • To enter, nurses are invited to share a 200-word story highlighting an instance of compassion, leadership, or positive impact on patients or colleagues. 
    • The contest is open from April 1 – May 12, 2024. Click here for full details.

Source: https://nurse.org/articles/free-nurse-week-giveaways/#Nurses-week-giveaway

Safety Tips for Exercising Outdoors for Older Adults

May 7, 2024

Staying safe when exercising outdoors for older adults

You’ve made a plan to be more active, and you’re ready to go outside and get started. But before you do, make sure that you can exercise safely in your neighborhood. Here are a few tips that can help you stay safe as you get moving.

Think ahead about safety.

  • Carry your ID with emergency contact information and bring a small amount of cash and a cell phone with you, especially if walking alone. Stay alert by not talking on the phone as you walk and keeping the volume low on your headphones.
  • Let others know where you’re going and when you plan to be back.
  • Stick to well-lit places with other people around.
  • Be seen to be safe. Wear light or brightly colored clothing during the day. Wear reflective material on your clothing and carry a flashlight at night. Put lights on the front and back of your bike.
  • Wear sturdy, appropriate shoes for your activity that give you proper footing.

Walk safely in rural areas.

  • If possible, walk during daylight hours.
  • Choose routes that are well-used, well-lit, and safe. Choose routes with places to sit in case you want to stop and rest.
  • Stay alert at all times. If you’re listening to music as you walk, turn down the volume so you can still hear bike bells and warnings from other walkers and runners coming up behind you.
  • Always walk facing oncoming traffic.
  • Walk on a sidewalk or a path whenever possible. Watch out for uneven sidewalks, which are tripping hazards.
  • Look for a smooth, stable surface alongside the road.

Walk safely in urban areas.

  • If the road has guardrails, see if there’s a smooth, flat surface behind the barrier where you can walk. If you need to walk on a paved shoulder, stay as far away from traffic as possible.
  • Watch for bridges and narrow shoulders.
  • Cross at crosswalks or intersections. Jaywalking increases your risk of a serious accident. Pay attention to the traffic signal. Cross only when you have the pedestrian crossing signal.
  • Never assume a driver sees you crossing the street. Try to make eye contact with drivers as they approach. Before you start to cross a street, make sure you have plenty of time to get across. Rushing increases your risk of falling.
  • Look across ALL lanes you must cross and make sure each lane is clear before proceeding. Look left, right, and left again before crossing. Just because one driver stops, don’t presume drivers in other lanes will stop for you.
  • Check out city parks. Many parks have walking or jogging trails away from traffic.

If you don’t feel safe exercising outdoors, be active inside.

Bicycle safety for older adults

Riding a bicycle is not only a fun family activity, it’s also a great way to exercise. Some people even use their bicycle to commute to work, go to the grocery store, or visit friends and family. When you’re out and about on your bike, it’s important to know how to be safe.

For more information about biking safely, visit the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Tips for exercising in hot weather

Many people enjoy warm-weather outdoor activities like walking, gardening, or playing tennis. Make sure to play it safe in hot weather. Too much heat can be risky for older adults and people with health problems. Being hot for too long can cause hyperthermia — a heat-related illness that includes heat stroke and heat exhaustion.

If you want to be active when it’s hot outside:

  • Check the weather forecast. If it’s very hot or humid, exercise inside with videos online, or walk in an air-conditioned building like a shopping mall.
  • Drink plenty of liquids. Water and fruit juices are good options. Avoid caffeine and alcohol. If your doctor has told you to limit liquids, ask what to do when it is very hot outside.
  • Wear light-colored, loose-fitting clothes in natural fabrics.
  • Dress in layers so you can remove clothing as your body warms up from activity.
  • Know the signs of heat-related illnesses and get medical help right away if you think someone has one.

Tips for exercising in cold weather

You can exercise outdoors in the winter, but take a few extra steps to stay safe before braving the cold. Exposure to cold can cause health problems such as hypothermia, a dangerous drop in body temperature.

If you want to do outdoor activities when it’s cold outside:

  • Check the weather forecast. If it’s very windy or cold, exercise inside with videos online and go out another time.
  • Watch out for snow and icy sidewalks.
  • Warm up your muscles first. Try walking or light arm pumping before you go out.
  • Pick the right clothes. Wear several layers of loose clothing. The layers will trap warm air between them. Avoid tight clothing, which can keep your blood from flowing freely and lead to loss of body heat.
  • Wear a waterproof coat or jacket if it’s snowy or rainy. Wear a hat, scarf, and gloves.
  • Learn the signs of hypothermia.

To learn more, please visit https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/exercise-and-physical-activity/safety-tips-exercising-outdoors-older-adults.

Beware of Scams Targeting Older Adults

April 30, 2024

Older adults are often the target of scams. Scammers are savvy and convincing, and their scams are designed to catch people off guard. Don’t be ashamed if you think you or someone you know has been a victim of a scam — it can happen to anyone.

Common scams aimed at older adults include:

What can you do?

Here are a few steps you can take to help protect yourself and your loved ones from scams:

  • Don’t give out sensitive personal information over the phone or in response to an email, social media post, or text message. Sensitive information includes your Social Security number, bank account information, credit card numbers, PINs, and passwords.
  • Check incoming bills, including utility bills and credit card statements, for charges that you didn’t authorize. Contact the utility provider, credit card company, or bank if you see any charges you don’t recognize.
  • Protect your electronic accounts by keeping the security software on your computer and smartphone up to date and by using multifactor authentication when possible.
  • Don’t transfer money to strangers or to someone over the phone. Similarly, never buy a gift card to pay someone over the phone. Once you transfer money or share the numbers on the back of a gift card, there’s usually no way to get your money back.
  • If someone is trying to scam you, they may threaten you or pressure you to act immediately. If this happens to you, don’t panic. Slow down and think about what the person is saying. If you suspect it’s a scam, end the call and talk to someone you trust.

One reason that scammers target older adults is that they are less likely to report suspected fraud. If you think that you or someone in your life has been the target of a scam, contact the National Elder Fraud Hotline at 833–372–8311. You can also contact your local police department or the attorney general of your state or territory, and you can report the scam to the Federal Trade Commission.

To learn more, please visit https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/safety/beware-scams-targeting-older-adults.

Providing Care to a Diverse Older Adult Population

April 22, 2024

Your patients bring diverse backgrounds, customs, abilities, and experiences to their health care. Some differences are apparent, while others are not. Factors that contribute to diversity include:

  • Geographic and cultural background
  • Race and ethnicity
  • Age
  • Gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation
  • Preferred language(s)
  • Religious and family traditions
  • Education and socioeconomic background
  • Neurodiversity
  • Cognitive, sensory, and physical abilities

Recognizing and appreciating diversity is an essential part of patient-centered care. It can lead to improved patient safety, more open communication, increased health equity, and better patient outcomes. By respecting each patient’s values and preferences, you’ll be more likely to engage them as collaborative partners in their care.

How is diversity related to health?

A patient’s culture and background will affect whether and where they seek health care, their understanding of medical information, and how they make health care decisions. Recognizing the different health issues your older patients are likely to face, as well as the factors that contribute to these differences, will help you provide the most effective care.

Many complex and interacting factors, lifelong and current, underlie disparities in health risk and disease burden. These factors include:

  • Unequal access to health care services
  • Availability of social support
  • Neighborhood and workplace environments
  • Food availability and accessibility
  • Wealth and income gaps
  • Racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination

Age-related health disparities affect the health of older adults. For example:

Scientists have also observed sex and gender differences in health and longevity. For example, women live longer than men, on average. They are also more likely to develop osteoporosis or depressive symptoms and to report functional limitations as they age. Men, on the other hand, are more likely to develop heart disease, cancer, or diabetes.

Other studies have found that lower socioeconomic status is associated with poorer health and reduced lifespan in the United States. Economic circumstances can determine whether an individual can afford quality health care and proper nutrition from early life into old age. Financial resources and health insurance often determine whether an older adult enters an assisted living facility or nursing home or stays at home to be cared for by family members.

Health care workforce diversity is important

Providers representing a variety of backgrounds and cultures can help meet the health needs of an increasingly diverse population. Some patients feel more comfortable with health care providers who share or understand their language, race, ethnicity, or other cultural characteristics. Research suggests that a diverse health care workforce may also improve patient satisfaction, patient-clinician communication, and access to care.

Communicating with a diverse patient population

Your conversational style can be a subtle but powerful way to connect with your patients. Being thoughtful about how you communicate with each individual can promote understanding, trust, and satisfaction in the patient-provider relationship.

Practical tips for effective communication include:

  • Ask patients which name and other descriptive terms they prefer and use those consistently. This small effort can go a long way toward making patients feel welcome, safe, and accepted.
  • Use person-first language. This language avoids defining someone by their condition or disability (e.g., people with diabetes instead of diabetics).
  • Try to match your communication style to that of your patient. Conventions such as the speed and volume of speech vary across cultures. To some people, interrupting an individual who is speaking is acceptable and even expected, while it is considered rude and off-putting to others. 
  • Use plain language. Avoid using medical terminology or abbreviations that your patients might not understand. Remember that certain idioms and figures of speech in English may be unfamiliar or confusing to people who have a different primary language.
  • Be aware of nonverbal communication (such as hand gestures) that may have a different meaning to patients from different backgrounds. People also differ in the amount of eye contact, smiling, touching, and physical distance that are comfortable.

Tailoring how you talk with patients can help them better understand the information you are providing. Communicating in a way that makes your patients feel comfortable may help them open up about their health concerns and be more receptive to your guidance.

Providing language assistance in health care settings

Overcoming language barriers is critical for effective patient-provider communication. It allows for mutual understanding, informed decision-making, and better quality of care.

In any type of health care setting, you are likely to encounter patients with a primary language other than English. Here are several ways to support these patients:

  • Identify the main languages spoken by your patient population and, whenever possible, match patients with qualified bilingual staff or have other trained medical interpretation services available.
  • Start appointments by asking all new patients which language they prefer to speak and read, and whether they would like an interpreter. An “I Speak” card (PDF, 4.6M) can help patients identify their preferred language. Note preferences in their medical records.
  • Provide important written materials in your patients’ preferred languages. For example, have office signage, intake and consent forms, prescription labels, and patient instructions available in multiple languages when possible. NIA provides health information for older adults in both English and Spanish as well as links to resources in other languages.
  • Maintain a list of referrals to local clinicians and community service providers who speak your patients’ preferred languages, when available.

It can be logistically challenging to provide language assistance services. As a result, some clinicians rely on interpretation by patients’ family members or on bilingual staff members who are untrained in medical interpretation. However, experts strongly discourage this practice. An informal interpreter may be unable to convey medical terminology accurately, may inadvertently misinterpret information, or may be reluctant to share difficult news. Informal interpretation can also interfere with patient privacy.

Using qualified medical interpreters can improve communication, understanding, clinical outcomes, and patient satisfaction with care. Trained interpreters will help ensure that everything said during a medical appointment is relayed accurately and objectively. This checklist (PDF, 207K) provides tips for working with an interpreter.

Providing language assistance isn’t just good medical practice: In some cases, it’s also required by law. Federal policies require health care providers who receive government funds, such as Medicare and Medicaid payments, to make interpretive services and written translations of critical documents available at no cost to people with limited English proficiency. Visit LEP.gov for details about these requirements.

Some states have professional associations and foundations that may provide funding for medical interpreters. Additionally, Medicaid offers reimbursement for some medical interpretation services.

If you are looking for a qualified medical interpreter, the National Board of Certification for Medical Interpreters and the Certification Commission for Healthcare Interpreters have online registries of certified interpreters. The Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf provides a searchable list of certified interpreters in American Sign Language. Many state government websites also provide directories of interpreters and translators to help you locate services in your area.

Tips for culturally sensitive care

How can you work with your patients in a way that respects their diversity? To start, avoid making assumptions about a person’s beliefs, attitudes, or behaviors based on their culture or background. Instead, engage with patients to find out about their individual values and preferences.

Additional ideas for providing culturally sensitive care include:

  • Reflect on your own background, beliefs, and values, and consider how they inform your practice. For example, think about your own feelings about aging and how they might influence your interactions with your older patients.
  • Get to know the community that you serve. What are the most common racial and ethnic groups? Which languages do they speak? What health, social, and environmental issues do they face? Adapt programs and health care practices so they are appropriate to the groups you serve most often.
  • Recognize that a healthy diet plan may differ among cultural traditions. Patients will have difficulty following dietary advice if it doesn’t take their food preferences and cooking methods into account. The Nutrition.gov Culture and Food page provides nutrition guidance, food options, and recipes from around the world.
  • Understand that some patients may value having other family members involved in their health care decisions. Clarify how the patient sees the role of family and any specific information they want shared with relatives.
  • For patients nearing the end of life, ask about their health care goals. There may be cultural or religious differences in attitudes toward end-of-life decision-making, such as creating advance directives; disclosing a terminal diagnosis to the sick person or family members; and pursuing life-prolonging treatments, such as a feeding tube.

Different beliefs about aging

People from different cultures and traditions have varied attitudes about aging. For example, in some cultures, older adults are customarily respected for their wisdom and experience. Other cultures tend to be more youth-centered, valuing the qualities of youth over those of old age.

When societies prefer youth over old age, it can lead to ageism. This often underrecognized form of discrimination comprises stereotypes and prejudices directed toward people on the basis of their age. Ageism has serious implications for the health of older people: Studies have associated age-based discrimination with poorer physical and mental health, reduced quality of life, and even earlier death.

Because ageism is so pervasive, it’s easy for well-intentioned health care providers to make assumptions about their older patients and inadvertently reinforce harmful stereotypes. For example, patients and their providers may dismiss otherwise treatable health problems as an inevitable part of aging. As a result, older patients may suffer preventable discomfort and disability.

For tips on avoiding ageism when talking with your patients, see the World Health Organization’s Quick Guide to Avoid Ageism in Communication.

Clinical research needs diversity

It is important for clinical trials and studies to include a diverse range of participants so the results will have broader applicability. Researchers need older adults from many different backgrounds to participate in research so they can learn more about how new drugs, tests, and other interventions will work in diverse populations.

Clinical research also needs scientists from diverse backgrounds, particularly from groups that have been historically underrepresented. Diversity in scientific teams can lead to more creative and innovative thinking, which can help biomedical research represent and benefit people from all backgrounds.

To learn more, please visit https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/health-care-professionals-information/providing-care-diverse-older-adult-population.