Each of us plays an important role in our aging journey. While genetics do impact health, especially as we grow older, lifestyle choices typically rank just as high. One topic related to longevity that has garnered attention over the last few decades is health literacy.
Traditionally, health literacy has been very broadly defined. The overarching definition has focused on an individual’s ability to use general literacy skills (reading, writing, math, listening, and speaking) to obtain, understand, evaluate, communicate, and apply health information to their personal well-being. For many experts, that was too vague to make a meaningful difference.
In 2010, the notion of health literacy became a cornerstone of a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services initiative named, Healthy People 2030. This initiative was updated in 2020 to incorporate language designed to encourage people to be more proactive in their approach to personal wellness. We’ll take a look at what health literacy is and how older adults can improve theirs.
Putting Healthy Literacy into Action
The newest definitions of health literacy shift the language to place greater emphasis on personal action. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), two important updates that apply to individuals (instead of organizations) are:
- Put knowledge into action: Make sure people can understand and use health information. That’s a change from just understanding what elements comprise good health.
- Encourage personal accountability: This is another shift in focus. With this update, people are encouraged to make “well-informed” decisions rather than “appropriate” ones.
So, what can you do to improve your own health literacy as you grow older? We have a few suggestions we hope you’ll find useful.
How to Improve Health Literacy
- Ask lots of questions: Many times, health-related information given to us is complicated. Whether it’s something a primary care physician recommends or the results of a test, we may not truly understand it. But the rushed environment of a doctor’s appointment might make us feel like asking too many questions isn’t an option. Try to overcome that tendency and instead, ask as many questions as necessary to know what you need to do.
- Keep a daily journal: Another idea is to keep a daily journal. Use it to document sleep patterns, hydration, your diet, exercise, daily activities, and your feelings each day. Journaling has many health benefits on its own, such as reduced stress and improved sleep. But charting all of these wellness factors might also help you spot trends you can share with your doctors. For example, do you find yourself waking up suddenly during the middle of the night? You could have sleep apnea.
- Connect with trustworthy health websites: With misinformation regarding everything from health care to politics, it’s important to connect with credible health care organizations online. While it’s easy to get drawn in by social media posts claiming to be experts, very few are. You can start by subscribing to digital newsletter(s) endorsed by your doctors. Others to consider include MedLinePlus®, the CDC, and FamilyDoctor.org. If you have a chronic health condition, such as diabetes or heart disease, follow the online organization that advocates for it, too.
- Attend health education events: Hospitals, libraries, senior living communities, and other health-related organizations often host free public events. From health fairs to speaker series, you can learn a lot from these forums. Many also allow attendees to ask questions during or after the event. This can be one more avenue for staying connected to the latest trends in successful aging.
One final suggestion is to bookmark the Sunrise Blog and visit often. We regularly share new articles and information on topics ranging from senior nutrition to online safety tips and intergenerational vacation ideas.