Literacy and race as risk factors for low rates of advance directives in older adults

Katherine R. Waite, Alex D. Federman, Danielle M. McCarthy, Rebecca Sudore, Laura M. Curtis, David W. Baker, Elizabeth A.H. Wilson, Romana Hasnain-Wynia, Michael S. Wolf*, Michael K. Paasche-Orlow

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

70 Scopus citations


Objectives To examine the effect of the relationship between literacy and other individual-level factors on having an advance directive (AD). Design Face-to-face structured interview. Setting Participants were recruited from an academic general internal medicine clinic and one of four federally qualified health centers in Chicago. Participants Seven hundred eighty-four adults aged 55 to 74. Measurements Assessment of participant literacy, sociodemographic factors, and having an AD for medical care. Results One-eighth (12.4%) of participants with low literacy, 26.6% of those with marginal literacy, and 49.5% of those with adequate literacy reported having an AD (P <.001). In multivariable analyses, literacy and race were independently associated with less likelihood of having an AD. Specifically, participants with limited literacy (risk ratio (RR) = 0.45, 95% confidence interval (CI) = 0.22-0.95) and African Americans (RR = 0.64, 95% CI = 0.47-0.88) were less likely to have an AD. Exploratory analyses showed that there was not a significant interaction between the effect of literacy and race. Conclusion Limited literacy and African-American race were significant risk factors for not having an AD in this cohort of older adults. Literacy and race probably represent two separate but important causal pathways that need to be understood to improve how the healthcare system ascertains and protects individuals' advance care preferences.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)403-406
Number of pages4
JournalJournal of the American Geriatrics Society
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2013


  • advance directive
  • end-of-life decisions
  • literacy
  • race

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geriatrics and Gerontology


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