Improve Your Health Literacy

Health literacy encompasses the ability to critically think about health information, complete basic math problems, fill out forms and interact with health care staff in order to make informed, comprehensive decisions about your health. Unfortunately, the 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy found only 3 percent of adults over the age of 65 had proficient health literacy scores. And these literacy problems are not always clear cut or obvious. Their findings indicated:
• 71 percent of adults older than age 60 had difficulty in using print materials in prose form
• 80 percent had difficulty using documents such as forms or charts
• 68 percent had difficulty with quantitative tasks
This difficulty only gets worse for older adults with memory or cognitive problems. For some, it may be difficult or embarrassing to admit confusion about something as important and personal as health. For others, they may not be aware of what they don’t know. Although most of the literature around National Health Literacy Month is geared towards awareness for health care workers, there are tools to taking responsibility for knowledge about your health. If you are confused at doctor’s office, here are some suggestions for improving your health literacy:
• Repeat back the instructions in your doctor gives you in own words to make sure no miscommunication has occurred
• Ask questions! There is no such thing as a stupid question when it comes to your health.
• Write down instructions and keep them posted where you can see them every day
• If verbal instructions don’t make sense, ask for pamphlets or written instructions
• If reading is difficult, have your doctor demonstrate instructions for you
• Document relevant symptoms or occurrences related to your health condition if it happens in between doctor appointments and bring it up at your next appointment so your doctor can have accurate information
• Bring along a family member if you’re feeling uneasy about an appointment or have any confusion about your diagnosis or treatment. They may be able to help you in understanding or think of questions that help you gain control of your health.
This article was submitted by Stacey Rupolo; ComForCare of Lower Fairfield County. For additional information please contact Nicol Rupolo 203-705-0220 or
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