In a study of over 3,000 Medicare patients, only smoking was a stronger predictor of early death than was illiteracy. Patients who can't read or understand health information don't take medicine properly and fail to seek care when necessary. Steve Mirsky reports.
Being able to read with comprehension doesn’t just vastly improve the quality of life. Literacy can actually be the difference between life and death. That’s according to a study in the current issue of the journal Archives of Internal Medicine. The study began ten years ago when Northwestern University researchers started following more than 3,000 Medicare patients.
The investigators tracked health as well as education, income, exercise, literacy, smoking and drinking habits, along with chronic medical conditions like asthma and diabetes. What they never expected to discover was that low literacy was the second leading predictor of death in their study population. Only smoking was a stronger indicator of a poor prognosis for the patients.
David Baker, the principal author of the study, said “When patients can't read, they are not able to do the things necessary to stay healthy. They don't know how to take their medications correctly, they don't understand when to seek medical care, and they don't know how to care for their diseases.” All of which likely contribute to their higher probability of dying sooner.