Importance of Health Literacy

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Elderly couple reviewing documents.

Think about how your older adult audience will come in contact with your message.

Older adults and their caregivers need reliable health information to prevent and manage disease, promote their health and follow public health recommendations and warnings. Yet, differences in access to formal education and literacy training, the complexity and technical nature of health information, and the natural processes of aging may compromise older adults’ capacity to use health information and make sense of messages.

The National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL) indicates the following about older adults’ health literacy skills:

  • 71% of adults older than age 60 had difficulty in using print materials
  • 80% had difficulty using documents such as forms or charts
  • 68% had difficulty with interpreting numbers and doing calculations

Older adults use more medical services and acquire more chronic illnesses than other population segments. By 2030, 71.5 million adults aged 65 years of age or older will be living in the United States. This demographic shift and the NAAL data affirm that improving health information and services is a priority to achieve improved health for older adults.