Exploring oral literacy in communication with hospice caregivers

Elaine Wittenberg-Lyles, Joy Goldsmith, Debra Parker Oliver, George Demiris, Robin L. Kruse, Stephanie Van Stee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Context: Low oral literacy has been identified as a barrier to pain management for informal caregivers who receive verbal instructions on pain medication and pain protocols. Objectives: To examine recorded communication between hospice staff and informal caregivers and explore caregiver experiences. Methods: Using transcripts of interactions (n = 47), oral literacy features were analyzed by examining the generalized language complexity using the Flesch-Kincaid grading scale and the dialogue interactivity defined by talking turns and interaction time. Means for longitudinal follow-up measures on caregiver anxiety, quality of life, perception of pain management, knowledge and comfort providing pain medication, and satisfaction were examined to explore their relationship to oral literacy. Results: Communication between team members and caregivers averaged a fourth-grade level on the Flesch-Kincaid scale, indicating that communication was easy to understand. Reading ease was associated (r = 0.67, P < 0.05) with caregiver understanding of and comfort with pain management. Perceived barriers to caregiver pain management were lower when sessions had increased use of passive sentences (r = 0.61, P < 0.01), suggesting that passive voice was not an accurate indicator of language complexity. Caregiver understanding and comfort with administering pain medications (r = -0.82, P < 0.01) and caregiver quality of life (r = -0.49, P < 0.05) were negatively correlated with dialogue pace. Conclusion: As the grade level of talk with caregivers and hospice teams increased, associated caregiver anxiety increased. Caregivers with higher anxiety also experienced greater difficulty in understanding pain medication and its management. Specific adjustments that hospice teams can make to improve caregiver experiences are identified.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)731-736
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Pain and Symptom Management
Issue number5
StatePublished - Nov 2013


  • Caregivers
  • health literacy
  • hospice team
  • pain management


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