Health literacy is critical skill required to understand the rationale for medications and comply with specific medical recommendations.
It includes “the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions.” This skill may be preserved in later life by consistent internet use and continued social engagement in civic, leisure and cultural activities, found University College London’s Lindsay C Kobayashi, Jane Wardle, and Christian von Wagner.
Kobayashi’s team evaluated internet use and engagement in civic, leisure and cultural activities for more than 4350 men and women 52 years of age and older, participating in the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA) between 2004 to 2011.
The researchers tested reading comprehension test of a fictitious medicine label in 2004–2005 and again in 2010–2011, and adjusted for:
- Educational attainment,
- Net non-pension wealth,
- Chronic illness,
- Activities of Daily Living (ADL) limitation,
- Baseline executive function,
- Baseline memory,
- Executive function.
Nearly one-third of adults had low health literacy, and 18% of the study group showed a decline in their health literacy skills between 2005 and 2011.
Those with the greatest decline in health literacy were:
- Ethnic minorities,
- Lacking educational qualifications,
- Low wealth,
- Experiencing difficulties with Activities of Daily Living (ADL).
However, people who consistently used the Internet use over the six-year study and participated in cultural activities such as attending the opera, theatre, art galleries, museums, concerts, or cinema appeared protected against health literacy decline and demonstrated the greatest health literacy.
Internet use and social participation enable people to retain “fluid cognitive ability,” the capacity to process and integrate information, act, and solve novel problems.
These skills are linked to memory, verbal fluency, and health literacy, according to Mount Sinai School of Medicine’s Alex D. Federman, Mary Sano, and Albert L. Siu, with Michael S. Wolf of Northwestern, and University of Texas’s Ethan A. Halm, who studied more than 410 English-speaking and Spanish-speaking adults ages 60 and older in New York City, USA.
Almost 25% of these participants showed insufficient health literacy measured on the Short Test of Functional Health Literacy in Adults (S-TOFHLA) and 20% had impaired immediate recall on the Wechsler Memory Scale II.
Maintaining fluid cognitive ability and related health literacy are crucial for maintaining partnership with health care professionals, according to RTI International’s Nancy D. Berkman with Stacey L. Sheridan and Katrina E. Donahue of University of North Carolina, collaborating with Duke’s David J. Halpern and Karen Crotty of Hayes, Inc. in their update of a 2004 review of MEDLINE, CINAHL, PsycINFO, ERIC, and Cochrane Library databases.
They found that people with diminished cognitive abilities and health literacy experience:
- Poorer health status,
- Poor self-care of chronic disease,
- Poorer compliance with taking medications as prescribed,
- Lower ability to interpret labels and warnings,
- High use of emergency services and low use of preventive health services such as cancer screening,
- Increased mortality,
- Increased hospitalizations.
Internet use and social engagement in cultural, civic, and leisure activities can enable people to maintain health by preserving their health literacy even as they age.
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