Aging and Functional Health Literacy: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

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Abstract

Objectives:

To review the evidence on the association between age and limited health literacy, overall and by health literacy test, and to investigate the mediating role of cognitive function.

Method:

The Embase, MEDLINE, and PsycINFO databases were searched. Eligible studies were conducted in any country or language, included participants aged ≥50 years, presented a measure of association between age and health literacy, and were published through September 2013.

Results:

Seventy analyses in 60 studies were included in the systematic review; 29 of these were included in the meta-analysis. Older age was strongly associated with limited health literacy in analyses that measured health literacy as reading comprehension, reasoning, and numeracy skills (random-effects odds ratio [OR] = 4.20; 95% confidence interval [CI]: 3.13–5.64). By contrast, older age was weakly associated with limited health literacy in studies that measured health literacy as medical vocabulary (random-effects OR = 1.19; 95% CI: 1.03–1.37). Evidence on the mediating role of cognitive function was limited.

Discussion:

Health literacy tests that utilize a range of fluid cognitive abilities and mirror everyday health tasks frequently observe skill limitations among older adults. Vocabulary-based health literacy skills appear more stable with age. Researchers should select measurement tests wisely when assessing health literacy of older adults.

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