Misreading medicine labels puts elderly at risk of dying
A third of older people are at an increased risk of dying because they do not fully understand the instructions on medicine labels, a study has found.Researchers at University of College London asked almost 8,000 adults over 52 to take part in a test of how well they could read and understand a basic medicines label, for a mocked-up aspirin product.
It comprised of four simple comprehension-style questions, such as ‘What is the maximum number of days you may take this medicine?’ and ‘List three situations for which you should consult a doctor’. The answers were on the bottle’s label.
A third failed to answer all four questions correctly. One in eight got two or more answers wrong.
The academics then followed the health of the volunteers for five years, all of whom were part of the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing project. Over that period 621 died.
They found those with poorer literacy – who got more answers wrong – were more likely to have died, the research published in the British Medical Journal found.
Specifically, 16 per cent of those who got two or more answers wrong died, nine per cent of those who got one wrong died, while only six per cent of those who answered all questions correctly did so.
Sophie Bostock, a research associate at UCL’s Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, said: “You can’t say the higher death rates are due to these people not reading medicines labels – the reasons for them dying early are complex – but poor literacy is certainly an indicator that they are more vulnerable.
“We do think there’s something specific about underlying literacy that has an impact on mortality.”
She noted that failing eyesight and dementia were not reasons for people being unable to read or comprehend the labels, and that the study was designed to examine fundamental literacy.
Despite poor literacy usually being a lifelong, intractable problem, she said there were ways to ensure such people lived longer, by targeting them with campaigns to make them understand their health problems better.
The team’s research chimes with recommendations made by Sir Michael Marmot, a Government advisor on health inequalities. He has said that improving children’s literacy is one of the most powerful ways of bettering public health.
Poor underlying literacy has long been known to be related with premature death, partly because those who fail to develop their reading skills at school are more likely to take up unhealthy habits like smoking and over-eating as adults.
However, there have been few attempts to quantify the scale of the problem or how it impacts on life expectancy.
Tags: Doctors, Health Professionals, NHS Deaths, preventable crisis