The University College London has recently undertaken a study to see if a definitive link between poor literacy skills and mortality rate can be found, and as such as found that elderly are at risk of dying due to complicated medicine labels. The UK is seeing a rise in long-term health conditions such as mental and physical health problems and chronic diseases, so the importance of fully understanding medicine labels is essential.
The University followed the health of 7,857 participants all of which were over the age of 52. Their aim was to try and establish whether or not an individual who possesses a lower level of literacy ability is more susceptible to not fully understanding written instructions on medication.
The participants were asked answer 4 questions that tested their ability to comprehend the instructions written on a mock packet of aspirin. The questions, such as how to you should take the medicine and whether or not they knew when to consul t a doctor, concluded that around one-third of those asked couldn’t answer all of the questions correctly. A further one in eight got 2 or more wrong meaning that they were unable to fully understand the product that they could have potentially been taking.
The surveyed participants were all part of the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing Project, which gathered data between 2004-2009. After 5 years from the initial questions, 621 of them had unfortunately died. Of the deceased, the researchers were able to show that 16% were those who got 2 or more of the four questions wrong along with 9% who answered 1 incorrectly. This was then directly compared to just 6% dying who answered all the questions correctly.
Although we cannot know for sure that their poor literacy skills were to blame for their mortality, it can however be concluded that it certainly adds to their vulnerability when it comes to correctly reading medicinal labels. The results showed that there could be a possible link between the two, raising the question of how to ensure that all people are equally protected in the future.
The Government’s advisor on health inequalities, Sir Michael Marmot, believes that the key is to target children in order to help improve their literacy ability with the aim of bettering public health. Research indicates that those who struggle in this area whilst young can have the tendency to smoke and develop over-eating habits in later life.