Posted on Jan 20, 2015, 6 a.m.
Certain types of mental activity may help people to understand doctors’ instructions as they age.
“Health literacy,” or the ability to understand and apply basic health information – such as doctors’ instructions, often declines with age. Lindsay Kobayashi, from the University College London (United Kingdom), and colleagues analyzed health literacy among 4,368 men and women ages 52 years and older, enrolled in the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing from 2004 to 2011. At the start of the study, 73% of the participants had adequate health literacy (assessed for ability to understand direction s on an aspirin bottle). Subjects were surveyed as to their internet and email use and their social engagement, including a variety of activities that required some intellectual and physical stimulation. After six years, health literacy scores declined in 19% by one or more points (on a four-point scale), but 18% improved their scores. Data analysis revealed that those people who used the internet or emailed regularly were 32% more likely to maintain their health literacy skills than those who didn’t, after adjusting for confounding factors. Those who engaged in cultural activities were 39% more likely to keep their health literacy skills and the more they participated, the better their ability. Observing that: “Internet use and social engagement, particularly in cultural activities (eg, attending the cinema, art galleries, museums and the theatre), may help older adults to maintain health literacy during ageing,” the study authors submit that: “Support for older adults to maintain socially engaged lives and to access the internet should help promote the maintenance of functional literacy skills during ageing.”
Lindsay C Kobayashi, Jane Wardle, Christian von Wagner. “Internet use, social engagement and health literacy decline during ageing in a longitudinal cohort of older English adults.” Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, November 26, 2014.