Health literacy and functional health status among older adults

Arch Intern Med. 2005 Sep 26;165(17):1946-52. doi: 10.1001/archinte.165.17.1946.


Background: Individuals with limited health literacy have less health knowledge, worse self-management skills, lower use of preventive services, and higher hospitalization rates. We evaluated the association between health literacy, self-reported physical and mental health functioning, and health-related activity limitations among new Medicare managed care enrollees.

Methods: A cross-sectional survey of 2923 enrollees was conducted in Cleveland, Ohio; Houston, Tex; Tampa, Fla; and Fort Lauderdale-Miami, Fla. Health literacy was measured using the short form of the Test of Functional Health Literacy in Adults. We used outcome measures that included scores on the physical and mental health functioning subscales of the Medical Outcomes Study 36-Item Short-Form Health Survey, difficulties with instrumental activities of daily living and activities of daily living, and limitations because of physical health and pain.

Results: After adjusting for the prevalence of chronic conditions, health risk behaviors, and sociodemographic characteristics, individuals with inadequate health literacy had worse physical function (67.7 vs 78.0, P<.001) and mental health (76.2 vs 84.0, P<.001) than individuals with adequate health literacy. Individuals with inadequate health literacy were more likely to report difficulties with instrumental activities of daily living (odds ratio [OR], 2.25; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.74-2.92) and activities of daily living (OR, 2.83; 95% CI, 1.62-4.96), limitations in activity because of physical health (OR, 1.79; 95% CI, 1.39-2.32), fewer accomplishments because of physical health (OR, 1.90; 95% CI, 1.48-2.45), and pain that interferes with normal work activities (OR, 2.01; 95% CI, 1.46-2.77).

Conclusion: Among community-dwelling older adults, inadequate health literacy was independently associated with poorer physical and mental health.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Activities of Daily Living
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Chronic Disease
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Educational Status*
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Health Status*
  • Health*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Managed Care Programs
  • Medicare
  • Mental Disorders