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How poor reading skills raise your risk of death
Compelling new research suggests that elderly patients with poor literacy skills are much more likely to die than their more literate counterparts
 
Elderly people who are unable to properly read medicine labels are likely to die earlier than those who can clearly follow doctors' instructions.
Elderly people who are unable to properly read medicine labels are likely to die earlier than those who can clearly follow doctors' instructions.
Jerry Tobias/Corbis

Reading skills are undoubtedly important, but a new study suggests that being able to comprehend what you read just might save your life. The massive study, which tested participants' abilities to understand medicine labels, suggests that older adults who have trouble reading are more likely to die than their literate counterparts. Here, a brief look at the startling findings:

How did the study work?
Researchers at the University of College London surveyed nearly 8,000 participants over the age of 52. Using a fake aspirin bottle complete with instructions as the testing instrument, researchers asked participants to answer four basic questions, including "What is the maximum number of days you may take this medicine?" and "List three situations for which you should consult a doctor." All the answers could be found on the label. 

What did the researchers find?
One third of the adults failed to correctly answer all four questions, and one in eight got two or more wrong. Researchers then monitored the volunteers' health for five years. During that time, 621 of the participants died, and people who missed two or more questions were more than twice as likely to have died than those who got the answers correct. More specifically: 16 percent in the lowest-scoring group died, compared with 6 percent of the participants who answered all four questions correctly. (Poor eyesight and dementia were not among the reasons participants were unable to read the labels, noted one research associate.)

Aren't the results obvious?
Yes, it's "common sense" that people who can better understand medical instructions will likely live longer, says Louis Peitzman at Gawker, but the "study also showed a link between poor health literacy and depression, heart disease, and diabetes."

Ok, so what does this mean? 
Poor health literacy is a "significant predictor of mortality," according to the study's authors, and access to information "doesn't necessarily equate to understanding." It's up to doctors to ensure that their patients understand their risks. Starting early to improve children's literacy, say researchers, is "one of the most powerful ways" to improve public health.

Sources: GawkerMedical News TodayTelegraph, U.S. News

 

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