Four out of 10 Aussie adults cannot read well enough to understand how to use medications

Adults with low literacy struggle to understand medication instructions

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Many Australians struggle to understand the instructions for their medications. Photo: Shutterstock.

Many Australians struggle to understand the instructions for their medications. Photo: Shutterstock.

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More than eight out of 10 adults in Australia have a literacy level of three or lower, and will have difficulty understanding medical terms and more complex medicine instructions.

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More than four out of 10 adults in Australia are not able to read and understand important information about their medicines.

Speaking at the National Medicine Symposium, Jo Medlin, President of the Council for Adult Literacy talked about the high levels of low adult literacy in Australia and what that means for how people use their medicines.

The Australian Core Skills Framework measures literacy in five levels. More than four out of 10 adults have a literacy level of two or lower which means they are not able to read many everyday texts. More than eight out of 10 adults in Australia have a literacy level of three or lower, and will have difficulty understanding medical terms and more complex medicine instructions.

"Just think of all of the things you have read since you got up this morning," said Ms Medlin.

"People who have difficulties reading are not able to access the same information as those that can. This can impact people's health if they are not able to take medicines properly, or understand what they need to do to stay well.

"Low literacy can have many causes. It is important to remember that it is not the person's fault. It could be due to schooling gaps, an undetected physical issue like seeing or hearing difficulties, or behavioural issues.

"The stigma around difficulties reading mean that it is hard for people to seek help, just making the problem worse and long-lasting.

People who have difficulties reading are not able to access the same information as those that can. This can impact people's health if they are not able to take medicines properly, or understand what they need to do to stay well - Jo Medlin, President of the Council for Adult Literacy.

"This is why it is so important how we talk about low literacy. We shouldn't talk about a person being illiterate or inumerate. We should say they have unmet literacy needs or have literacy or numeracy gaps."

Medlin showed examples of text we see in everyday life and gave tips on how to make these simpler and easier to understand. Using plain language, better layout and more images can help.

Improving workplace literacy can help. It can lead to fewer errors and misunderstanding which is particularly important when talking about health.

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