Illiteracy kills

Elderly people who read poorly die earlier than good readers, concludes a study in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

Older adults who cannot read and understand basic health information have a 50 per cent higher mortality rate over a five-year period than those with adequate reading skills, the study found.

. . . “When patients can’t read, they are not able to do the things necessary to stay healthy,” (Dr. David) Baker noted. “They don’t know how to take their medications correctly, they don’t understand when to seek medical care, and they don’t know how to care for their diseases.”

Researchers looked at retirees’ race/ethnicity, education, income, health behaviors (smoking, alcohol consumption, exercise) and chronic medical conditions (diabetes, asthma, heart disease, etc.). About one in four had trouble reading text and “doctor appointment slips, hospital forms and pill bottles that required understanding numbers.”

Low health literacy was the top predictor of mortality after smoking, also surpassing income and years of education, the study showed.

Of course, it’s possible that reading problems are a symptom rather than a cause of declining health.

To keep mentally sharp in old age, build your “cognitive reserve.”

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