OBJECTIVE. The match between the reading level of occupational therapy education materials and older clients’ reading ability and comprehension was determined. The sociodemographic and literacy characteristics that influenced clients’ reading ability and comprehension were investigated.
METHOD. The reading level of 110 written education materials (handouts, brochures, and information leaflets), distributed to older clients (65 years of age and older) by occupational therapists working in Queensland hospitals, was analyzed using the Flesch formula. The reading ability of 214 older persons (mean age 77 years, 63% female) was assessed using the Rapid Estimate of Adult Literacy in Medicine. Participants’ comprehension of information of increasing reading difficulty was measured using the Cloze procedure.
RESULTS. The written materials required a mean reading level between the ninth and tenth grades. Participants’ mean reading ability was seventh to eighth grade. Therefore some materials may have been too difficult for participants to read and understand. Participants with a managerial or professional or clerical background (p = 0.001) and those who perceived they read well (p = 0.001) had a significantly higher reading ability. Older age was significantly related to poorer comprehension (p = 0.018), with participants 75 years of age and over having a mean comprehension score of 25.6 compared to 30.3 for those 65 to 74 years of age.
CONCLUSION. Occupational therapists must analyze the reading level of the written education materials they develop for and use with clients by applying readability formulas. There should be a match between the reading level of written materials and clients’ reading ability. Clients’ reading ability may be assessed informally by discussing years of education and literacy habits or formally using reading assessments. Content and design characteristics should be considered when developing written education materials for clients.