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Extension educators to address health literacy

Posted 1/19/2011

Pam Powell speaking.  Jill Ukeiley looking on.

Powell, Plasencia selected for health literacy and aging program

By Andrew Church

University of Nevada Cooperative Extension Educator Pamela Powell and UNCE Southern Area Extension Specialist Julie Plasencia have been selected to participate in the Nevada Geriatric Education Consortium’s “Scholars in Health Literacy and Aging” program.

The program is part of an effort to promote health literacy among seniors in Nevada.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services defines health literacy as, “the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions."

According to the Sanford Center for Aging, a part of the University of Nevada, Reno, the population of seniors in Nevada will increase by 230 percent by the year 2030, meaning that nearly one in five residents will be a senior.

The rapidly growing senior population raises concerns about health issues and practices in Nevada. According to the Consortium, only 50 percent of patients take medications as directed, with lower percentages among older residents. Furthermore, the Consortium reports that 21 percent of Americans are functionally illiterate, hampering their ability to take medications properly.

“This is a significant portion of the population that may not be literate about health issues,” Powell said. “We’re dealing with a population that wants to be engaged in the community, but steps must be taken to live healthier if they are to function at older ages.”

To address these concerns, the Scholars in Health Literacy and Aging program seeks to train academic and administrative professionals in a variety of health-related disciplines. Through training, the program hopes its participants will spread health-related knowledge to their constituents and other faculty, as well as create a network of health professionals in Nevada.

"(The Health Literacy program) is a great opportunity; I’m really excited,” Powell said. “This is a great way to build a network of people to further our goals, but also support other team members as well. I think I’m going to learn a lot.”

Plasencia, a registered dietitian whose work focuses on developing strategies to help reduce the risk of diabetes among minorities and at-risk populations, said the program will provide valuable information she can bring back to the community.

“In Clark County, more than a quarter of the Latino population are seniors," Plasencia said. "This is a great opportunity to apply what I am learning to the Latino population.”

Powell and Plasencia will meet with other professionals during the course of a year for a total of 60 hours.

The Nevada Geriatric Education Consortium is a partnership of the University of Nevada School of Medicine, Touro University Nevada and the University of Nevada-Las Vegas. More information regarding the Scholars in Health Literacy and Aging program can be found at the Nevada Geriatric Education Consortium website at or by visiting the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension at

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