Health literacy is the last aspect of the elements of healthy aging that we are going to discuss.  The Institute of Medicine defines health literacy as “the degree to which individuals can obtain, process, and understand the basic information and services they need to make appropriate health decisions.” Studies show that health literacy is a strong predictor of health status.  If one is unable to understand instructions and information properly, it is likely they will not receive the care they need and will have worse outcomes. Low health literacy is more prevalent among older adults.  Some of this can be attributed to things like poor hearing or eyesight.  Physicians can sometimes contribute to this problem by not speaking in clear terms or language that a non-medical person can understand.

How can we be sure to get the most out of our medical visits and ensure we leave with the best information?  Here are some tips:

  • Be sure to bring items like hearing aids and eyeglasses.
  • Show up prepared.  Have a list of questions you would like to ask your physician.
  • Think about bringing someone with you who might be able to take notes while you speak with your physician.
  • Repeat back to your physician what is said to be sure that you clearly understand.
  • If there is a required action, practice it with your physician or nurse there to ensure it is being done correctly.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions.  If there is something you don’t understand, ask that it be explained again, perhaps in a different way.
  • Ask for written instructions/information that you can take home in case you need to refer to it later.