October: A Month to Increase Awareness both in Lewy Body Dementia and in Health Literacy

October is Lewy Body Dementia Awareness Month! Thank you for all you are doing to promote increased awareness in your communities.

It is also the awareness month of a lesser known, but important concept called Health Literacy. This is a concept that is important both to individuals and to organizations. For this post, I want to focus on something called “Personal Health Literacy” which is defined by the CDC as the, “degree to which individuals have the ability to find, understand, and use information and services to inform health-related decisions and actions for themselves and others.”

Health Literacy is significant because at some point in our lives we will need to be able to take care of our health, prevent health problems, protect our health, or manage the health of others.

This can be especially important when we are directly interacting with healthcare professionals in offices, facilities, or hospitals – and can be especially difficult in times of stress, increased symptoms, unexpected changes, or crisis.

Health Literacy is very different from reading well or using numbers well – and even those with the highest levels of all abilities can have instances where they face issues that impact their understanding. Health can involve technical information including medical terms, new equipment, medications, tests, statistics, risks, benefits, illnesses, and prevention. Studies from the CDC show that nearly 9 out of 10 adults struggle to understand and use public health information when it is filled with unfamiliar or complex terms.

Health concerns affect our emotions and when we are under stress or highly emotional – our brains do not work as efficiently to process information. However, it is in these times in which making well-informed decisions can be critical.

It is necessary to seek clear communication in dealing with health concerns, take the initiative and ask questions, and let providers know when you do not understand. Giving your health providers feedback is a great way assist them in helping you feel well-informed and make better decisions about the situation.

It is crucial for providers to make a conscious effort to provide clear communication using familiar words, numbers, and images which make sense to the person who needs the information. It is also vital for medical providers to develop a trusting environment and relationship where individuals feel comfortable asking questions and finding clarity.

Striving to promote the highest level of Health Literacy should be a goal for all and knowing the importance of this concept is a great first step!