Health literacy and older adults: Findings from a national population-based survey

Jane M. Fry, Jo Antoniades, Jeromey B. Temple, Richard H. Osborne, Christina Cheng, Kerry Hwang, Bianca Brijnath

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Issue Addressed: With an ageing population and growing complexity and fragmentation of health care systems, health literacy is increasingly important in managing health. This study investigated health literacy strengths and challenges reported by older Australians (people aged 65 or over) and identified how socio-demographic and health factors related to their health literacy profiles. Methods: The sample comprised 1578 individuals responding to the Australian Government's 2018 Health Literacy Survey, conducted between January and August. Regression modelling was used to estimate the association between each of nine domains of the Health Literacy Questionnaire (HLQ) and individual socio-demographic and health characteristics. The model allowed for correlation between HLQ scores that was linked to unobserved characteristics of individuals. Results: Across the health literacy domains, few individuals received mean scores in the lowest score range. Key individual characteristics associated with higher health literacy were increasing age, English proficiency, higher education levels, better self-assessed health and having certain chronic conditions (cancer, hypertension and arthritis). Conclusions: Our findings suggest that, among those aged 65 or over, being older or living with chronic illnesses were associated with greater confidence in engaging with providers, accessing information and navigating health services compared to individuals aged 65–69 and those older individuals without chronic illness. Lower health literacy was associated with psychological distress and low English proficiency. So What?: Interventions to improve individual health literacy and organisation health literacy responsiveness to minimise complexity of the Australian health system are required. This may enhance uptake and use of health information and services for the underserviced members of the community.

Original languageEnglish
JournalHealth Promotion Journal of Australia
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • aged
  • empowerment
  • health care disparities
  • health literacy
  • public health
  • regression analysis


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