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A Profile of Older Americans: 2006

Special Topic: Health Literacy


Older adult have more chronic conditions, hospital admissions, doctor and ER visits, and expenditures for prescription drugs than younger age groups. Therefore, health literacy, i.e., the ability of individuals to understand basic health information, is critical to the ability of older persons to maintain good health. However, older adults have disproportionately lower health literacy than younger adults. In a recent national survey, the elderly had an average health literacy score within the basic health literacy performance level, while the averages for all other age groups fall into the intermediate performance group. As shown in Figure 10, older adults were also far more likely to have below basic (29%) or basic (30%) health literacy than any other age group.

Figure 10: Percentage of Adult in each Health Literacy Level, by age: 2003

Figure 10: Percentage of  Adults in each Health literacy level in 2003.  Age 16 to 18: 11 percent below basic, 23 percent basic, 58 percent intermediate, and 8 percent proficient. Age 19 to 24: 10 percent below basic, 21 percent basic, 58 percent intermediate, and 11 percent proficient.  Age 25 to 39: 10 percent below basic, 18 percent basic, 55 percent intermediate, and 16 percent proficient.  Age 40 to 49: 11 percent below basic, 21 percent basic, 56 percent intermediate, and 12 percent proficient.  Age 50 to 64: 13 percent below basic, 21 percent basic, 53 percent intermediate, and 12 percent proficient.  Age 65 and older: 29 percent below basic, 30 percent basic, 38 percent intermediate, and 3 percent proficient.


(Source: The Health Literacy of America’s Adults: Results From the 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NCES 2006–483). U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics.)

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AoA - Statistics - A Profile of Older Americans 2006 - Caregiving