Health Literacy


Health literacy is the process of obtaining, understanding and implementing healthcare information meant to enhance appropriate healthcare decisions and enable patients to follow treatment instructions strictly. The concept of healthcare literacy revolves around numerous contexts and settings within which information is disseminated in a particular community. Studies reveal that in many societies, more than half of the patients who are going through various medications do not have the capacity to understand basic health care information without facilitation by a health care professional. Healthcare literacy is also lower among the illiterate people as compared to the literate sectors of the population. As a result of this, healthcare literacy has continued to be considered as a primary factor in health disparities.

Relationship between Health Literacy and Health Care Outcomes

Studies also show that there are a number of socio-cultural factors that affect the effectiveness of health education. These include literacy level, language barrier, cultural appropriateness and a format of words in a particular language that can distort information. On the other hand, cultural and religious illusions and instructiveness with the interventions also affect the way health education is understood and implemented.

It has been observed that increased health literacy has positive effects on the treatment outcome and safety of care delivery. Patients who demonstrate high health literacy have lower risks of hospitalization or longer hospital stays. They are also more likely to comply with treatment and minimize errors that patients often make during medication. Literate patients are likely to recover faster from an illness and experience less psychosocial effects of a disease.  Their proactive approach to medication may also enable them to prevent negative reactions to a particular form of medication hence enhancing safety during and after the treatment period. Health care literacy also affects the working condition of health professionals. For instance, the literate are likely to help integrate medical programs that target a particular sector of the population such as the elderly, youths or marginalized communities.

Relevance of Health Literacy for the Elderly

Health literacy, which is curtailed to meet the needs of the elderly, is a very significant aspect of aging. This is based on the fact that old age has various physiological changes that have to be coped up with and managed such as physiological challenges and complications associated with impaired movement, sight or hearing. The old people are also limited in regenerative abilities and are more prone to diseases, syndromes and sicknesses than the younger people. The elderly are also exposed to other health related social challenges such as retirement, loneliness and ageism. These challenges vary from one cultural context to another. This creates a need to offer health education that is aimed at making the elderly people understand and appreciate the health conditions that are related to their ageing.

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The education should also enable them to attain relevant information that helps them to minimize disease vulnerabilities that are associated with old age. Such programs should also focus on managing special illnesses associated with aging such as diabetes, hypertension, and arthritis among others. In the developing countries, the aged are among the most illiterate sectors of communities. Lack of health education can, therefore, increase risks in addition to already existing health challenges that are associated to illiteracy and underdevelopment.

Health Literacy Needs for the Elderly Hypertension Patients

Although the medical causes of hypertension are unknown, it has been observed that lifestyle issues such as overweight, diabetes, overconsumption of alcohol and lack of physical exercise often increase the risks. The condition has also been reported as common among the aged based on a number of reasons. These include changes in hormonal profiles and increase of salt concentration in the body. Besides these, hypertension among the aging is caused by decreased efficiency of the functions of the heart and other medical conditions such as adrenal, thyroid and tumors. From psychosocial point of view, persistent stress and depression can also cause hypertension among the elderly.

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Heath literacy requirements for the ageing should target the reduction of hypertension associated with these known causes and also improvement of management of the conditions to the affected patients. In reaction to this, health literacy strategies should discourage consumption of foods and drinks that increase the risks of hypertension such as alcohol and excess salts. The aged should also be informed on how to cope with challenges that may cause stress such as physical weariness, loneliness and retirement.

The elderly should be informed about the need to embrace a healthy diet. It should be done with the view of foods that are available in every economic and social context. The old should also be informed about the need to do physical exercise that would keep their bodies strong, healthy and active. For those who are already affected by hypertension, information on the need to adopt first line treatment alongside lifestyle changes should be incorporated. For those who have chronic cases, psychological counseling processes should be pursued. The elderly should thus be persuaded to embrace and adopt cooperative strategies that enhance healthy living.

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Health literacy among the elderly should target the creation of understanding and acceptance on the physiological changes that develop with old age. In addition to these, the information should aim at helping the aged to cope with contextual societal challenges such as low economic status, high population density and residential mobility. In this process, a holistic and interdisciplinary approach needs to be adopted. The promotion of health literacy should also incorporate other stakeholders such as family members, community social workers and health professionals.

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