As I travel around and speak to groups of older adults, I share a lot of stories on being well, safe and happy. I also have the pleasure of meeting a lot of people who like to share their stories and experiences with me. Whether it's a funny family anecdote, an incident at the doctor's office or their pharmacy or just a question on the topic I spoke on, it all goes into the sermon on health literacy that I preach. Here are a few examples.
I was doing a speech on health literacy for a group of retired teachers when a couple told me a story about catching a mistake that was done at their pharmacy. The gentleman was to receive his prescription of Viagra but instead was given Valium. The wife caught the mistake. I don't know how and I didn't ask.
I was at a senior center where my topic was on senior ID theft. A lady asked me to look at some of the "junk mail" she had been receiving and particularly one piece of mail she believed was a scam. It turned out to be her phone bill.
I relate a story that I read from Dr. Susan Reeves of Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in New Hampshire. She tells the story of a patient being asked what her doctor had said about her symptoms. The patient answered, "I have asteroids in my universe" when actually the doctor had said she had "fibroid tumors in her uterus."
All of these stories represent an aspect of health literacy. You might understand that being said about the drug store mix up and the doctors' story but ID theft or a phone bill? What I tell people is that anything that affects our "well-being" affects our health. My aunt had her ID stolen. She literally worried herself sick. You might not think of your credit card as being crucial to your health but see how you feel when you discover yours' is lost. Or, have your phone disconnected and not understand why and see if your blood pressure goes up a notch or two.
Literacy is not just saying a word but knowing its meaning and how to use it and, if not, it means knowing where to go to find out. Health literacy is exactly the same. It's not just about going to the doctors and taking your medicine. It's about getting information and being able to act on that information. The bad news is that according to the Centers for Disease Control (the CDC), 90% of us have difficulty in getting health information in everyday language, meaning that just about everyone at some point needs help understanding. The good news is there are people and resources available to us that can assist in not only finding this information but interpreting it as well. More importantly, health literacy is more than just taking care of the physical health. Under the large umbrella of health is; physical, mental, spiritual, behavioral, attitude and fiscal health and you could probably add a few more to that list. Each one of those categories needs routine attention and maintenance in order to achieve well-being and only a few of us do that entirely well.
The first step toward improved health literacy is not getting the answer to your question; it's stepping forward to ask your question in the first place. Understand?