The association of health literacy with illness and medication beliefs among older adults with asthma

Alex D. Federman, Michael Wolf, Anastasia Sofianou, Elizabeth A H Wilson, Melissa Martynenko, Ethan A. Halm, Howard Leventhal, Juan P. Wisnivesky

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

43 Scopus citations


Objective: Suboptimal health literacy (HL) and asthma beliefs are associated with poor asthma self-management and outcomes. We tested the hypothesis that low HL is associated with inaccurate beliefs. Methods: Asthmatics ≥60 were recruited from hospital and community practices in New York, NY and Chicago, IL (N = 420). HL was measured with the Short Test of Functional Health Literacy in Adults; validated instruments derived from the self regulation model were used to assess beliefs. The association of beliefs with HL was evaluated with multivariate models. Results: Thirty-six percent of patients had low HL; 54% believed they only have asthma when symptoms are present, 29% believed they will not always have asthma and 20% believed that their doctor can cure asthma. HL was associated with beliefs of not having asthma all the time and that asthma can be cured (OR: 1.84, 95% CI: 1.2-2.82; OR: 2.22, 95% CI: 1.29-3.82, respectively). Patients with low HL were also more likely to be concerned about medication use (β = 0.92, p = .05), despite recognizing their necessity (β = -1.36, p = .01). Conclusions: Older asthmatics with low HL endorse erroneous asthma beliefs. Practice implications: Health communications for improving self-management behaviors in asthma should employ both health literacy-appropriate strategies and messages to counter illness-related misconceptions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)273-278
Number of pages6
JournalPatient Education and Counseling
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 2013


  • Asthma
  • Asthmatics
  • Elderly
  • Health literacy
  • Illness beliefs
  • Medication beliefs
  • Older
  • Self-management

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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