Lower literacy means poor health and poor health care access for older people

People aged 70 years and older with limited literacy skills are one and one half to two times as likely to have poor health and poor health care access as people with adequate or higher reading ability, according to a study led by researchers at the San Francisco VA Medical Center and the University of California, San Francisco.

Elders with limited literacy, which the researchers define as a reading level lower than ninth grade, were one and a half times more likely than other study participants to report poor overall health and diabetes, and twice as likely to report depression. The study authors note that self-reported health has been found in other studies to correlate strongly with actual health.

The study of 2,512 community-dwelling elders between the ages of 70 and 79 revealed that one in four had limited literacy. In practical terms, these elders "may have trouble reading basic health information or pill bottle instructions," according to lead author Rebecca Sudore, MD, a staff physician at SFVAMC.

The study appears in the May 2006 issue of the Journal of the American Geriatric Society.

The researchers also found that people with a sixth-grade or lower reading level were twice as likely as the ninth-grade and above group to have poor access to health care, as measured by lacking a regular doctor or place of care, a flu shot within the previous year, or insurance to cover medication. Subjects with a seventh- to eighth-grade reading level also had less health care access compared to the ninth-grade group, but after accounting for other factors the differences were not statistically significant, according to Sudore.

The study authors emphasize that all results were adjusted for, and therefore independent of, patients' socioeconomic background and level of education.

"As a geriatrician, the results of this study break my heart," says Sudore, who is also an assistant adjunct professor of medicine at UCSF. "Elders alr

Contact: Steve Tokar
415-221-4810 x5202
University of California - San Francisco

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