Irresistible forces are heightening the urgent need for a new, far more effective approach to health and care services in Australia, in particular, how the system relates to people 60 years and over. The existing system leans heavily towards illness and dependency and is inflexible, difficult to access and navigate, and inevitably unaffordable. Today’s system does not produce optimal outcomes for users, providers or the community. This reality — combined with the increased longevity most people will enjoy — means innovative thinking is needed when it comes to one’s health literacy.
Health literacy is the knowledge and skills of a person to understand and access the vital information to make educated decisions and take actions about their health. At this point, health literacy across the community is well below par due to various causes. Accurate information about health and ageing is difficult to access, if it exists at all. Similarly, individuals’ knowledge of their own health and the cognisance of issues to manage it is inadequate. So, too, is the actioning of prevention.
Developing our own health literacy will be of tremendous benefit. One of the main advantages of an enhanced health literacy is increased control over our health and wellbeing. As we know, people can often suffer through a lack of control as they grow older, with fewer choices and options for services, greater challenges in managing chronic illness, prolonged physical ailments and so on. More control, gained through more knowledge, can absolutely mitigate the risk of such issues.
We must invest time to better understand our individual bodies and health status as a step in taking the initiative to increase our own health literacy. What are the health risks we are personally prone to either through genetics, environment or lifestyle? Are there hereditary conditions to be aware of? Has my diet over the preceding 30 years increased the threat of chronic disease? Have my working conditions impacted me physically? Have I been largely sedentary for many years? We must be honest with ourselves in considering these factors and maintain a commitment to act before a crisis point. Then add in the professional assessment and input to be properly informed. Having the answers to these questions will provide control over any conditions we may have or be susceptible to.
An increased awareness of the social determinants of health is also essential to better identify factors that will influence our wellbeing. For example, where we live, our history of work, our family’s medical history, our financial position and ongoing access to essential services all impact our ability to live long and live well. If we take the initiative to increase our own health literacy by understanding our personal risk factors, heightened knowledge will prove invaluable in developing and implementing our longevity plans. It’s a no-brainer that being proactive about our health can save our life. Being aware of the health network accessible to us and knowing who our trusted, competent providers are, so they in turn know us, means they can provide the best possible assistance to support our optimal health and wellbeing.
There’s no doubt that as a society we need smarter and more effective government-led systems and health networks that are easier to navigate, and services that are simpler to access. However, we can’t afford to wait for a utopia that will likely never come. We all have the opportunity to start taking more control of our health and wellbeing by committing to knowing more about ourselves and our options, and use greater health literacy to help ensure we age successfully.
IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.