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Monthly Archives: May 2012

Literacy and multimorbidity

By Catherine Hudon

In the wake of prevention and intervention strategies developed to address multimorbidity, the identification of risk factors and of people most at risk, is an important aspect. Aging and low socioeconomic status are already clearly associated with an increased incidence of multimorbidity. Without directly measuring multimorbidity, many studies have also assessed a relationship between low literacy and poorer health status using global health measures which raises the possibility of an independent association between literacy or health literacy and multimorbidity.

We conducted a study to evaluate the relationship between literacy and multimorbidity while controlling for potential confounders. In this research, we used a more detailed instrument to measure patients’ disease burden than the studies supporting the existence of a relationship between health literacy and global health measures. The results of the study, recently published in BMC Family Practice, suggest that low literacy is associated with the presence of multimorbidity in adults consulting in primary care in bivariate analysis, but this association was no longer present when controlling for age and family income.

Patients with multimorbidity may have specific diseases that are associated with low literacy, but further studies are needed to identify individual diseases and combinations of diseases linked to literacy while controlling for potential confounding variables.

Although we did not observe a direct association between literacy and multimorbidity, it is still important to continue taking this variable into account in patient care in order to tailor health information to patient needs and in a format they can understand.