Health literacy programs improve knowledge, comfort and confidence in older adults, according to new systematic review

The elf elders round these parts are pretty clued up for their generation and have hooked themselves up to t’Internet.  They love it, so much so that the Tuesday night Bingo bash has been usurped by an evening under the Oak Tree where they compile Spotify playlists and challenge the goblins to games of Wordfeud.

It is known though that many of the UK’s 10 million plus over-65s are not yet online, a frustrating situation as they are amongst those who can benefit most from the social interaction and access to services that the Internet provides.

One area where the Internet has the potential to make a great impact is in improving the health literacy of the ageing population (eHealth literacy).  There is a wealth of health related information that is available and accessible to those who have the know-how.  Health promotion and disease prevention can go hand in hand if we are educated effectively.

Health literacy is a relatively new concept that, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO),

‘…represents the cognitive and social skills which determine the motivation and ability of individuals to gain access to, understand and use information in ways which maintain and promote good health’.

It really is important to improve access to health information for older adults and their ability to use it effectively.  Knowledge is power and with it comes understanding and the capacity to act by changing your lifestyle to improve your health and make better use of the social services.  This improvement in health literacy in the over-65s not only benefits the individual but has long term social and economical benefits too.

Senior couple looking at laptop

This new review looked at health literacy programs targeted to older adults

A systematic literature review has been carried out recently that attempts to investigate health literacy programs targeted to older adults that aim to support their access to, understanding and use of health information.   After a search of relevant databases they found nine articles that focused on health literacy in the older adult population.  The review was not exploring computer literacy and only studies involving older adults who were already comfortable with using a computer were included.

Four of the nine studies were classified as ‘functional health literacy programs’ and focused on improving literacy skills to locate relevant health information.  The remaining five articles were ‘interactive health literacy programs’ and these focused on the understanding of the health information and it’s relevance to enable health-related decision-making.  This is what they found:

  • The selected articles demonstrated positive outcomes of health literacy training in older adults
  • Within the functional programs authors reported that some participants felt more confident in their capacity to seek out information
  • Overall in the interactive programs improved knowledge, improved personal capacity to act independently in retrieving relevant health information and improved comfort and confidence in seeking out the information were reported


  •  A limited number of health literacy programs targeted specifically to the older adult population exist
  • There are real limitations in generalising the results of the studies due to the study designs and evaluation methods used
  • Results are demonstrated with a pre- and post- test intervention design involving a single group that offers no comparison to a control group
  • Often there was no follow-up to determine the long-term impact of the interventions
  • These limitations were a result of small sample sizes and the relative newness of this research area

The authors concluded:

“Given the limitations in the quality and quantity of evidence supporting health literacy skills in the ageing population, a need for more comprehensive intervention programs with active follow-up procedures and comprehensive evaluation measures is required”.

“Evaluation of the effectiveness of health literacy strategies is required to identify best practice to benefit different populations”.

Everyday the Internet presents us with new tools and it seems we don’t always know how to make the most of them.  It’s clear that improved knowledge of health would be beneficial to the ageing population to enable greater emphasis on self-management and care with the promotion of overall health and well being.   Learning how to access and understand the wealth of information on our cyber waves is an important step.

Right I’m off to educate myself now on good habits for a long and elfy life.   It’s never too early to start you know.   Just need to wrestle my laptop off Granny first.


E. MANAFO and S. WONG (2012) Health literacy programs for older adults: a systematic literature review. Health Educ. Res. 2012 : cys067v1-cys067 [OxfordJournals]