Adverse Impacts of Declining Financial and Health Literacy in Old Age.

Affiliation

Yu L(1), Mottola G(2), Bennett DA(3), Boyle PA(4).
Author information:
(1)Rush Alzheimer's Disease Center, Rush University Medical Center
(LY, DAB, PAB), Chicago, IL, USA; Department of Neurological Sciences, Rush University Medical Center
(LY, DAB), Chicago, IL, USA. Electronic address: [Email]
(2)FINRA Investor Education Foundation
(GM), Washington DC, USA.
(3)Rush Alzheimer's Disease Center, Rush University Medical Center
(LY, DAB, PAB), Chicago, IL, USA; Department of Neurological Sciences, Rush University Medical Center
(LY, DAB), Chicago, IL, USA.
(4)Rush Alzheimer's Disease Center, Rush University Medical Center
(LY, DAB, PAB), Chicago, IL, USA; Department of Behavioral Sciences, Rush University Medical Center
(PAB), Chicago, IL, USA.

Abstract

OBJECTIVES: Inadequate financial and health literacy presents a formidable public health and economic challenge in old age. This study investigated declining financial and health literacy in relation to decision making performance, scam susceptibility and psychological wellbeing. DESIGN: Longitudinal study. SETTING: A community-based cohort in Northeastern Illinois, USA. PARTICIPANTS: One thousand fourty-six older adults who were free of dementia at baseline and underwent annual clinical and literacy assessments. MEASUREMENTS: Financial and health literacy, decision making, scam susceptibility, and psychological wellbeing were assessed using validated instruments. Linear mixed effects models estimated person-specific rates of change in financial and health literacy, and multivariable regression analyses examined the associations of declining literacy with subsequent levels of decision making, scam susceptibility, and psychological wellbeing. RESULTS: The mean age was 81 years and 76% were female. Over up to 10 years of annual follow-ups, the average financial and health literacy score dropped 1 percentage point a year. Substantial variability in decline was observed between participants. Faster decline in financial and health literacy was associated with poorer decision making, higher scam susceptibility, and lower psychological wellbeing. Notably, these associations were above and beyond the baseline literacy level and persisted even after controlling for cognition. CONCLUSIONS: Most community-dwelling older adults experience decline in financial and health literacy over time, but decline is not inevitable. Declining literacy is related to poorer decision making, greater scam susceptibility and lower wellbeing. These findings suggest that efforts to mitigate declining financial and health literacy may promote independence and wellbeing in old age.