medicine health care labels

How to help older people understand pharmaceutical labels

Pharmaceutical labelling is important. Misuse of even a relatively benign medicine can have serious consequences, especially for elderly patients with deteriorating health (and possibly eyesight, and cognitive abilities).

A study detailed in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health followed 4,300 participants aged 50 or over from 2002 to 2011, testing their ability to understand health information while also tracking their hobbies and interests.

The results showed that “internet use and social engagement may help older adults to maintain the functional literacy skills required to manage health”.

What does this mean for pharmaceutical labelling?

The link here is simple enough – medicine labels are better understood by those who keep their minds active, implying that they usually require a fair bit of mental effort to understand… so perhaps more effort needs to be made to make them easier to read?


Some countries have seen positive results from the use of pictograms to convey side effects, dosage information and other vital data. However, even standardised designs can be misinterpreted – text is invariably less ambiguous.


Presenting the right information with clarity

A common problem with using text is the balance between clarity and the available space for all the necessary information.  This is a key area where multi-page labels help – the most important information such as dosage information and side effects can be given suitable levels of clarity and prominence, while other information can still be included in a compact folder or booklet label.

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