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Health literacy and functional health status in Korean older adults


Su Hyun Kim, Assistant Professor, School of Nursing, Kyungpook National University, 101 Dongin-2ga, Jung-gu, Daegu 700-422, South Korea. Telephone: +82 53 420 4928.


Aims and objectives.  The aim of the study was to investigate the relationships of health literacy to chronic medical conditions and the functional health status among community-dwelling Korean older adults.

Background.  In the literature, limited health literacy has been reported to have adverse effect on health outcomes. However, the link between health literacy to health status among Korean older adults needs to be clarified.

Design.  A cross-sectional survey.

Methods.  A cross-sectional survey of 103 community-dwelling Korean older adults was conducted from June 2007–September 2007. Health literacy was measured using the Korean Functional Health Literacy test and functional health status was measured using the subscales of the Medical Outcomes Study 12-item Short-Form Health Survey.

Results.  Individuals with a low health literacy had significantly higher rates of arthritis and hypertension. After adjusting for age, education and income, older individuals with low health literacy had higher limitations in activity and lower subjective health. In a model adjusting for age and income only, older individuals with low health literacy were more likely to report lower levels of physical function and subjective health and higher levels of limitations in activity and pain.

Conclusions.  Among community-dwelling Korean older adults, limited health literacy is associated independently with higher rates of chronic medical conditions and lower subjective health status.

Relevance to clinical practice.  Nurses are key to providing health education to older adults. The understanding of the relationship of health literacy to health status is essential to develop communication and health education efforts for older adults in nursing practice.