Older adults who don't understand basic health are putting their lives at risk, new research shows. According to the results of a study published in the BMJ, increased mortality in older British adults has been linked to a poor understanding of basic health information.
This shocking revelation is important because Western nations are experiencing phenomenal growth among older populations, a demographic which could be at risk if health literacy isn't encouraged.
Researchers from the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health at the University College London designed a population based cohort study which included 7857 individuals who participated in the 2004-5 wave of the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing. The volunteers, all of whom were 52 years of age or older, were provided a four item test of functional health literacy to assess their understanding of written instructions for taking aspirin.
Researchers Sophie Bostock and Andrew Steptoe, found that one third of older adults in England weren't able to comprehend the basic instructions on a medical label. They also learned that people with the lowest functional health literacy comprehension were more than twice as likely to die within five years of study follow-up than volunteers with high functional health literacy.
Their study revealed that people with a poor understanding of health tended to be older and of lower socioeconomic status.
Moreover, lower health literacy was associated with a greater prevalence for depression, physical limitations, heart disease, asthma, diabetes and stroke - very serious conditions which can become aggravated by a lack of understanding of the basic health information needed for treatment.
These findings have significant implications for the health and survival of older populations. Bostock and Steptoe pointed out that people with low health literacy will be less likely to take care of themselves or have the ability to understand and follow complicated drug regimens.
The researchers also noted that poor literacy will complicate a person's ability to make informed health care decisions which can be problematic since doctors often mistake patients to have a firm grasp of treatment instructions.
The researchers speculated that some cases of poor understanding of basic health information could be linked to a lifetime of poor reading comprehension. Whereas others could be attributed to lack of educational opportunities or age-related cognitive decline.
Based on their findings Bostock and Steptoe said: "This study serves as a reminder to all healthcare professionals to adopt communication techniques that are effective for patients with low health literacy."
Their recommendation is a sound one. Because if health care professionals and their patients are unable to effectively communicate with each other (due to poor comprehension and understanding of basic information), the outcome could be very dire.
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"Health Illiteracy Is Linked To Higher Mortality In Older Adults" copyright © 2012 Living Fit, Healthy and Happy(SM). All Rights Reserved.
Bostock, S., & Steptoe, A. (2012). Association between low functional health literacy and mortality in older adults: longitudinal cohort study BMJ, 344 (mar15 3) DOI: 10.1136/bmj.e1602