The objectives of this study were to (a) characterize the literacy skills of low-income, community-dwelling, older adults, (b) determine how they obtain information, and (c) determine whether they have difficulty understanding written information provided by clinicians. We studied 177 subjects (mean age 72.2, range 60-94). None had cognitive or visual impairments that precluded assessing literacy. Reading skills were tested, sociodemographic data were recorded, and information was collected on whether subjects have trouble understanding information given to them by health providers. Data analysis determined if literacy was associated with how subjects obtain and understand medical information. The subjects' mean reading skills were at grade level 5, below those of the general US population. One-fourth of subjects reported difficulty understanding written information from clinicians; this was more frequent among poor readers (P = 0.0002). Ninety-seven percent of subjects, regardless of literacy, reported that television was their primary source of information. Health information for low-income seniors should be transmitted through literacy-appropriate communication methods.