Health Literacy and Long Term Planning

As we age and our medical needs become more complex, the ability to obtain, communicate, process and understand basic health information and make appropriate health decisions becomes increasingly challenging and important.

This ability to process and use medical information is known as health literacy, and recent studies by the US Department of Health and Human Services show that we as a population have a lot to learn in this field, especially as the Baby Boomer generation reaches retirement age and are faced with critical questions about their health and finances.

According to the USDHHS study:

  • 77 million Americans have inadequate health literacy
  • Only 12% have high health literacy to manage and prevent disease
  • 71% of adults older than 60 years old have difficulty in using print materials
  • 68% find interpreting numbers and doing calculations difficult

These findings might paint a discouraging picture, but there are simple, actionable steps we can take now to better prepare ourselves for the medical and financial challenges that face everyone as we age.

Preparing for Medical and Financial Challenges

Photo courtesy of ardelfin, via

Photo courtesy of ardelfin, via

Step 1: Do Your Research Now

Be sure to build a list of health and health care-related concepts and questions that you find difficult to understand, and spend some time researching these concepts.

From a medical standpoint, it is important to begin looking into your family’s health history and identify illnesses and conditions commonly faced by your older relatives.  Be sure to learn about these conditions, early warning signs, and communicate this information to your health care team.

While researching challenges you might face in the future, be sure to also begin looking for solutions.  Learning more about service providers in your area, like home health care service agencies, assisted living facilities, senior day programs and hospitals while you are in good health and have the ability to consider your options is probably the best way to ensure you age with grace.

Finally, consider your finances and begin speaking to financial planners or other financial experts who can help you budget for the future and better explain what expenses might be covered through Medicare, Medicaid, and other health coverage you might have.

Step 2: Use Trusted Sources

Finding trustworthy information on the Internet means more than typing a question into your search bar. While performing your research, be sure to verify anything you read across multiple reputable sources before taking it as fact.

There is a cottage industry of either intentionally or unintentionally misleading information on the Web regarding health concerns, and many people are drawn to fringe websites that offer information that is easier to swallow than the realities of medical fact.

When in doubt, check to see if too-good-to-be-true information is backed by a published medical study or government sponsored research effort, which should be linked in the article.

Step 3: Speak to Your Peer

When faced with the challenges of aging, it is easy to feel like you are on your own, but remember that your friends and peers are facing the same challenges and questions.

Becoming comfortable talking about your medical challenges and questions with your peers is a great way to build the foundations of a local support network.  Sharing your findings about various local senior services and healthcare providers can save you countless amounts of trial and error and open up new care possibilities you might overlook on your own.

Step 4: Build Relationships with Industry Professionals

Independent research and discussions with your social circle are valuable resources for planning your later years, but nothing compares to having trustworthy industry experts who can offer you long-term guidance as your needs develop and change.

Seeking out a financial planner who specializes in aging before you retire can be one of the most important connections you make while preparing for life after your 9 to 5, as your overall financial health will play a huge role in determining what solutions you can realistically pursue to overcome medical challenges.

Additionally, by developing a long-term relationship with your health care provider, you can begin mapping out a timeline of important medical tests and diagnostics tailored to your medical history and specific risk factors.

This will also improve the chances that slight but significant changes in your condition will be noticed during checkups and potentially serious illnesses can begin to be managed before emergency intervention is required.

With so many things to consider, planning for your later years can seem like a daunting task, but by taking small, practical steps now, you can make the transition to your sunset years a smooth one.  Remember, you are not alone, and by turning to those around you, doing good research and building support networks now, you can focus on the things that matter most in your life.

At SelectCare Home Care Services, we believe everyone has the right to live a happy, healthy life in the comfort of their long-time home, and our team of home health care experts have been helping New Yorkers do just that for more than 30 years.

To learn more about how we can help you plan for your future call SelectCare today or request a free home health care guide.