People who have very little knowledge about health are likely to die early, according to a new report. Researchers from the University College London have discovered that one in three elderly people who have difficulty in reading and understanding basic health-related information is likely to die early.

Low health literacy is associated with less knowledge of chronic diseases, poorer mental and physical health, limited use of preventive services, and higher rates of admissions to hospital.

Researchers had conducted a study on 7,857 adults aged 52 years and over who took part in the second wave (2004-5) of the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA). Participants completed a test of functional health literacy, which assessed their understanding of the written instructions associated with taking a tablet. They found one of three people who had poor health-related knowledge is likely to die earlier than others.

The study suggests that a third of older adults in England have difficulties reading and understanding basic health-related written information.

"This study is a reminder that providing information doesn't necessarily equate to understanding," Sophie Bostock, University College London Epidemiology & Public Health, said in a statement.

She said the findings should remind all healthcare professionals to adopt effective communication techniques for patients with low health literacy. The design and delivery of health-related services for older adults in England should be sensitive to the limited health literacy capabilities within this population, she said.