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10 Tips for Educating Elderly Patients

HCPRO Website, February 4, 2013

Assessment is the first step in patient education. Evaluate your patient’s skills and knowledge in important areas. Consider the patient’s reading level, ability to learn, ability to understand English, and resources. Use the assessment findings to develop a unique plan for the patient.

Since many homecare patients are over the age of 65, you need to exercise a slightly different approach to meet their learning needs effectively. Consider the following tips for teaching elderly patients:

  1. Maintain a positive and patient attitude. Treat the older person as intelligent and capable of learning.
  2. Take a few minutes to talk and problem-solve before starting to teach. Ask the patient about experience in a given area. Find out what’s worked or what hasn’t worked in the past.
  3. Identify significant cultural or social factors that may affect the teaching learning process.
  4. Include the patient in setting learning goals. Keep the material relevant to the learner’s needs.
  5. Identify and try to accommodate any disability that may affect the learning process. For example, for patients with visual impairment, encourage the use of glasses (if appropriate), and investigate special learning tools, such as large print material.
  6. Slow the pace of instruction and gear teaching to the patient’s rate of absorption. Stop teaching if the patient appears tired or stressed.
  7. Break each topic into small parts. Repeat sessions when necessary. Give pertinent, positive feedback.
  8. Ask the patient to talk through the procedure before trying it. Provide opportunities for practice sessions and repeat demonstrations. Include role playing, discussion, and problem-solving.
  9. Avoid tests or challenges — these can create too much stress and impede learning.
  10. Assess responses carefully to make sure the information was understood correctly. Gear the frequency and duration of your teaching to match your patient’s learning ability and need to know.

Invite family caregivers to be part of your infection control teaching process. At teaching sessions, you can further assess family dynamics. If one of your goals is to promote patient independence, make sure family members understand that their role is to support the patient, not to take over for the patient. And vice versa, if your goal is to teach the family members wound care — make sure that they understand that it will become their sole responsibility to provide this service for the patient for as long as the need remains. Encourage family caregivers to review and reinforce frequently what the patient is learning.

The ability to apply what has been learned is maximized when the teaching occurs where the tasks will be carried out. Select the area of the home where the patient or family caregiver will perform what you’re teaching. Example: Teach ostomy care in the bathroom. To enhance learning, use proper lighting, maintain a comfortable temperature, keep the area free of clutter and keep distractions to a minimum.

Your teaching plan will likely require more than one session. Each session should contain some overlap so the patient can connect the steps logically. Conclude each session with a review of the material you covered and your goal for next time. Use a summary session to facilitate the process of integration and to provide the opportunity for evaluation and positive feedback. Leave audio-visuals in the home when possible, provide handouts appropriate for the patient’s ability to read and comprehend, and encourage the patient to review the material independently.

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