Health Literacy and Aging: Building Capacity

What is Health Literacy?

Health Lit

Health literacy is defined in Health People 2010 as: "The degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions."  Everyone is vulnerable to health literacy challenges, especially older adults, people with multiple chronic health conditions, and the foreign-born.  Importantly, health literacy varies by context and setting and may not be related to years of education or general reading ability.  A range of skills are necessary for health literacy, including oral and written communication, reading comprehension, understanding multi-step instructions, analyzing health-related situations, and navigating health services and systems.  Research findings suggest that low health literacy is associated with poor health outcomes, which is one reason that this issue remains a top priority for the CGEC.

The UNC Faculty Development Program in Health Literacy and Aging

The Carolina Geriatric Education Center has a showcase Faculty Development Course in Health Literacy and Aging (FDHLA).  This 20-25 hour educational experience helps health care providers and administrators to address the most significant problems that result from low health literacy among older adults.  The course combines traditional classroom learning with distance education, including Web-based meetings and conference calls to meet the needs of practicing professionals with busy schedules.

As part of this learning community you will identify issues and affect change in your practice, teaching, and organizational processes through a final project which applies new found knowledge of good health literacy practices to the real world.  Your learning experience leads to future opportunities to spread the message of increasing health literacy and improving health outcomes as a result.

While pre and post test evaluations indicate improved knowledge and skills related to health literacy, the most impressive outcome of the course is the change that you will make in your work environments through your projects. Examples include incorporating the teach back method into the UNC-Chapel Hill PharmD program curriculum, teaching health literacy concepts to UNC medical students, developing online Continuing Education modules on health literacy, and developing a user-friendly falls self-assessment tool.

Since 2008, UNC has trained almost 50 clinician leaders with teaching, mentoring or educational program development responsibilities who work in health care, academic settings or in Area Health Education Centers.

email Cristine Clarke, Ed. D. for more information on joining an upcoming class!

The Expertise at The University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill

The University of North Carolina is well poised to spread a statewide educational program for health literacy. UNC, with some of the nation’s leading researchers and teachers related to the topic of health literacy, is prepared to lead that effort. Researchers have performed observational and intervention studies and are frequently asked to present their findings, and to train health professionals. Recently, the NC Institute of Medicine completed a task force on health literacy and is recommending the integration of health literacy curricula in undergraduate and graduate continuing education programs across the health professions. The curriculum developed by the CGEC has the opportunity to spread beyond the geriatric programs to educate health care providers across the state.