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Arnold School of Public Health

Daniela Friedman guest edits special issue on communication and aging for Journal of Women & Aging

July 29, 2020 | Erin Bluvas,

The Journal of Women and Aging, a peer-reviewed healthcare journal on which health promotion, education, and behavior professor Daniela Friedman serves as an associate editor, has published a special issue on Communication and Aging: Challenges and Opportunities for Older Women. Friedman, who is the chair of her department and co-director of the Arnold School’s Office for the Study of Aging, served as a guest editor on the issue.

“My passion for research on aging and communication probably stems from seeing family members and their care partners struggle to understand directives from health professionals about disease diagnosis and treatment,” Friedman writes in an introduction to the issue. “The strong and brilliant women I admired during my childhood seemed lost and grasping for any and all information they could find to help them cope with cancer recurrences or onset of dementia. They scoured pamphlets in specialists’ waiting rooms, surfed credible and questionable sites on the early World Wide Web, and sought second and third opinions as they sent their medical records and CT scans from office to office.”

In the years since then, studies on communication and aging have increased, with researchers learning much more about what works and what does not work. Friedman herself led a study which found that the health-focused communication efforts aimed at educating older adults about healthy aging –  published in newspapers and magazines – were often written in technical language, provided limited content and cues to action, and missed opportunities to recommend that high-risk groups should seek preventive care earlier than the general population.

This line of work has continued, resulting in peer-reviewed papers such as the seven articles published in this special issue. The three qualitative articles include a study on the importance of social support and tailored communication and interventions to improve quality of life for women over 50 living with HIV, a paper on the emotional connections between (mostly) female caregivers and female dementia patients living in nursing homes, and research on how communication with healthcare providers among older, low-income women influences pain management decision making.

The issue’s four quantitative papers all explore the use of technology. One study analyzed online travel articles focused on solo travel advice while another conducted a content analysis of how the largest U.S. home care and home health providers market their services online through family-like approaches. The third quantitative paper examined the role of online support groups for older Polish women caring for spouses with Alzheimer’s disease, and the fourth study assessed the benefits of a technology-based program on the well-being of residents in long-term care facilities.   

“It has been exciting to read the ever-expanding body of work focused on aging and communication,” Friedman says. “Let’s continue to explore how we can communicate most effectively in a world in which information — both accurate and misleading — is at our fingertips, options for sharing information via technology are evolving rapidly, and our diverse older adult populations who are living in a variety of settings have unique information source preferences and needs. Clear, accurate, and culturally appropriate communication about health may not lead directly to changes in behavior or improved health outcomes, but we owe it to our aging communities and their families to try our very best.”


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