A new study suggests a link between the ease with which older adults can access and understand health information and their happiness.

University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) researchers surveyed 383 older adults in Alabama ages 50 and up who were under the care of primary care physicians. Those surveyed were asked if they could read and answer questions on medical forms unassisted and to rate their level of happiness.

The study found that those with lower levels of health literacy – those who reported having the most problems reading and understanding medical forms – were more than twice as likely to report being unhappy regardless of health and socioeconomic status.

The study suggests that improving older patients’ ability to obtain health information might be an important element in programs aimed at improving wellness and well-being among older adult patients, say the study’s lead author, UAB Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Economics Erik Angner, Ph.D., and the principal investigator, UAB Professor Jeroan J. Allison, M.D., of the Division of Preventative Medicine.

Health literacy is the degree to which a person can find and understand basic health information or access health services. About half of all Americans, some 90 million, have problems understanding and using health information, according to a 2004 report by the Institute of Medicine, “Health Literacy: A Prescription to End Confusion.”

Poor health literacy makes it harder for patients to follow directions on medications or provide accurate medical histories.

An explanation for the study results may have to do with a sense of control, said Angner. That sense, which has been found to be associated with higher happiness scores in other studies, might be undermined by inadequate health literacy.

The study was funded in part by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) Centers for Education and Research on Therapeutics cooperative agreement and is found in the journal Social Indicators Research.

Source: University of Alabama Birmingham