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Recent research has begun to recognize the important influence of literacy levels and how they affect health and wellbeing, especially in older adults. Our study focuses on health and financial literacy, two domains of literacy which previous research has suggested may be significantly related to health and wellbeing. Our study examines the relation of health and financial literacy with health promoting behaviors and health status among community-based older persons.
We conducted a cross-sectional study using data from the Rush Memory and Aging Project, a community-based cohort study of aging in northeastern Illinois. The study consisted of 556 older persons without dementia, each determined by a clinical evaluation. Health and financial literacy were measured using a series of questions designed to assess the ability to understand and process health and financial information, concepts, and numeracy; the two scores were averaged to yield a total literacy score. Health promoting behaviors, including engagement in cognitive, physical, and social activities, were assessed using self report measures. Indicators of heath status, including cognition (global cognition and five specific cognitive abilities), functional status (basic and instrumental activities of daily living, mobility disability), and mental health (depressive symptoms, loneliness) were assessed.
In a series of regression models adjusted for age, sex, and education, higher total literacy scores were associated with more frequent participation in health promoting behaviors, including cognitive, physical and social activities (all p values <0.05). Higher total literacy scores were associated with higher cognitive function, less disability, and better mental health (all p values<0.05). Literacy remained associated with health promoting behaviors and health status in fully adjusted models that also controlled for income and the number of chronic medical conditions. Most of the findings were similar for health and financial literacy except that health literacy was more strongly associated with health promoting behaviors whereas financial literacy was more strongly associated with mental health.
Health and financial literacy are associated with more frequent engagement in health promoting behaviors and better health status in older persons without dementia.