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Poor health literacy linked to death in elderly
Poor health literacy linked to death in elderly

July 23, 2007 (Insidermedicine) Older adults who cannot read or understand basic health information have higher death rates over a five-year period than those with adequate health literacy, according to a report published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

Longevity has been linked to education, and this may be due to improved job opportunities, a higher annual income, and access to housing, food, and health insurance. It may also be that people who are more educated are better able to read and are thereby better equipped to understand health information and make appropriate health decisions. Inadequate health literacy is associated with less knowledge about chronic diseases and worse self-management skills. The use of cancer screening and vaccinations are also lower among this group.

To investigate the association between level of education and health literacy, researchers interviewed more than 3,200 patients aged 65 and older, asking questions about demographics and health. The participants also completed Test of Functional Health Literacy in Adults. 

Researchers found that 64% of the participants had adequate health literacy, and 11% and 25% had marginal and inadequate health literacy, respectively. Those with inadequate health literacy skills were two times more likely to die during a five year period.

Levels of health literacy were strongly related to the probability of death from cardiovascular diseases, and more than twice as many participants with inadequate health literacy died of this cause.

Widespread improvements in health and health care communication will likely be necessary to reduce the association between health literacy and death. A better understanding of the association between health literacy and adverse health outcomes is needed in order to establish more comprehensive and effective interventions.

Reporting for Insidermedicine, I’m Dr. Susan Sharma.