We have always known that adult literacy is an important factor in determining economic status, independence and self esteem, but does reading ability actually provide health benefits? Apparently so, according to a British study that finds that elderly adults with low literacy skills are twice as likely to die within a five-year period as their peers with no literacy problems.
The study, conducted by researchers from University College London, “tested nearly 8,000 adults on their understanding of aspirin instructions” (BBC). The participants who had difficulty understanding the instructions had a significantly higher mortality rate over the next five years, with 16% of the lowest-scoring group passing away. Only 6% of the adults who had fully understood the instructions died within that time period.
According to the BBC article: “When researchers adjusted for factors such as wealth, education, income, ethnicity and basic health, the link between low healthy literacy and mortality risk reduced, ‘but remained significant.’”
The results make sense — people with good reading skills are more likely to read and understand instructions pertaining to dosages, side effects and warning labels, allowing them to make more informed choices relating to their health. Another important point this study brings up is that we need to make sure that labels and instructions that come with medicines are written in simple, clear language that an elderly person or non-native English speaker can understand.
Aside from understanding information directly pertaining to health, good literacy skills and habitual reading have been shown to provide a host of mental and physical benefits. Time magazine states, “reading and playing board games or a musical instrument [has been] associated with a decreased risk of Alzeheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia. Intriguingly, those with the strongest habits demonstrated the greatest benefits.”
Aside from the physical benefits of reading, strong literacy skills provide self-esteem boosts and confidence. “If you can read well, you can do anything,” is a phrase my mother repeated countless times as she pushed books into my hands throughout my childhood. And while I’m sure she had more lofty goals in mind for me — maybe becoming a business mogul or best-selling novelist — it sure does help to be able to read the instructions on the aspirin bottle.
Photo credit: bartificial
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