$500,000 grant launches health literacy project to benefit older adults

Stories of seniors struggling to correctly take their medications, failing to recognize chest pain as a sign of a possible heart attack or grappling with the multitude of new prescription drug plan options illustrate a glaring national problem -- low health literacy levels among our nation's fastest growing population.

An interdisciplinary research team from Kent State University is investigating this important question of health literacy. With a National Leadership Grant of more than $500,000 from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, co-investigators Dr. Mary Stansbury, associate professor of library and information science, and Dr. Ruth Ludwick, professor of nursing, are examining the means by which older adults seek information on health issues, including healthcare options and identifying symptoms of illness.

In the United States millions of people simply do not seek or use health information services. The poor, the educationally disadvantaged and older adults are among those who often are not health literate, according to a 2004 Institute for Healthcare Advancement study.

"The strongest predictor of an individual's health status is not age, income, employment status, education or racial or ethnic group -- it is health literacy," Ludwick said.

The team will evaluate all aspects of the health information-seeking process and make recommendations to help health-related institutions craft more effective health information programs and services.

This project is the first undertaken by a new Kent State group called the Center for Health Literacy. The group aims to improve the health literacy of adults and families and brings faculty and staff together from the colleges of Nursing; Communication and Information; Education, Health, and Human Services; as well as from Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine.

Better understanding of the means to present and deliver health information could pay dividends in the long run, and not just for seniors. The National Academy on an Aging Society estimates that low literacy skills are responsible for increasing annual health expenditures by $73 billion.

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For more information, contact Stansbury at 330-672-0015 or mstansbu@kent.edu, or Ludwick at 330-672-8820 or rludwick@kent.edu.


Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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