Web site walks seniors through maze of medical data

Older Americans are going online more to find answers to health questions

Life After 50

Health & Fitness

December 14, 2003|By Korky Vann | Korky Vann,The Hartford Courant

Maybe your doctor has recommended cataract surgery. Perhaps your spouse has had a stroke or been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. Whatever your situation, you may have considered doing research online to expand your knowledge to make more informed decisions.

But while the Internet is filled with thousands of sites offering information on a wide range of age-related health issues, making your way through the amount of data can be overwhelming. Type "Alzheimer's disease" into an online search engine, and more than 1 million links come up. Try "arthritis treatment," and more than 2 million hits come up. "Hearing loss" returns more than 2 million possible sites.

The National Institute on Aging has found that some of the information on these Web sites is reliable and current, and some is not. Choosing which site to trust can be challenging. To help, the National Institutes of Health has launched NIHSeniorHealth.gov (www.nihseniorhealth.gov), a user-friendly, talking Web site with formats and topics tailored to the needs of older adults.

The site focuses on health topics and diseases of particular interest to older people, including Alzheimer's and care-giving; arthritis; balance; breast, colorectal, lung and prostate cancer; hearing loss; and exercise.

The Web site contains large print and short, clear segments of information. Oversized "forward" and "back" buttons make it easy to move from place to place. Videos, question-and-answer sections, captioned photographs and illustrations and quizzes make the information easy to read and remember. The site also has a "talking" function, which offers users the option of having the text read to them.

Dr. Richard J. Hodes, director of the National Institute on Aging, says the project, which has been in development for several years, was prompted by research that showed seniors were the fastest-growing group of Internet users.

The Hartford Courant is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

Consider the source

The National Institute on Aging offers these tips for finding reliable health information online:

* Identify the Web site sponsor. The end of the address can help: ".gov" is a government agency; ".edu" is an educational institution; ".org" identifies professional organizations such as scientific or research societies or advocacy groups; and ".com" identifies commercial sites, such as those created by businesses or pharmaceutical companies.

* Make sure you can reach the site's sponsor. Trustworthy sites have contact information, such as a toll-free phone number and mailing address. Authors and contributors and their affiliation and financial interest in the site should be identified.

* Find out when the information was written and when the site was updated. Be skeptical of dramatic cures or remedies, and use your common sense.

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