BACKGROUND: Many older adults have low levels of health literacy which affects their ability to participate optimally in healthcare. It is unclear how cognitive decline contributes to health literacy. To study this, longitudinal data are needed. The aim of this study was therefore to assess the associations of cognitive functioning and 10-years' cognitive decline with health literacy in older adults.
METHODS: Data from 988 participants (mean age = 65.3) of the Doetinchem Cohort Study were analyzed. Health literacy was measured by the Brief Health Literacy Screening. Memory, mental flexibility, information processing speed, and global cognitive functioning were assessed at the same time as health literacy and also 10 years earlier. Logistic regression analyses were performed, adjusted for age, gender, and educational level.
RESULTS: Higher scores on tests in all cognitive domains were associated with a lower likelihood of having low health literacy after adjustment for confounders (all ORs < 0.70, p-values<.001). Similar associations were found for past cognitive functioning (all ORs < 0.75, p-values<.05). Before adjustment, stronger cognitive decline was associated with a greater likelihood of having low health literacy (all ORs > 1.37, p-values<.05). These associations lost significance after adjustment for educational level, except for the association of memory decline (OR = 1.40, p = .023, 95% CI: 1.05 to 1.88).
CONCLUSION: Older adults with poorer cognitive functioning and stronger cognitive decline are at risk for having low health literacy, which can affect their abilities to promote health and self-manage disease. Low health literacy and declining cognitive functioning might be a barrier for person-centered care, even in relatively young older adults.