Seniors are surfing the Net
To keep our brains sharp as we age, experts advise us to stay intellectually engaged and socially connected. The Internet may be one way to do both. A growing number of seniors is embracing the technology as a way to both find information and reach out to others. That said, the Internet is still largely unregulated and the sheer quantity of information can be overwhelming. Still, there are excellent sites that offer important information for seniors including tips for using the Internet, finding trustworthy health- care information and connecting with others.
Government sites a reliable resource
The Government of Canada maintains several websites specific to seniors. The most comprehensive is www.seniors.gc.ca, the official home of Seniors Canada. An excellent reader-friendly feature — found on all government sites at the top of each webpage — is the option to increase the font size, making it easier for those who have trouble reading smaller-sized text.
The Seniors Canada site is a good starting point for new users because the “computers and learning” section describes how the Internet works and how to use it effectively. The site also provides links to other government organizations, such as the seniors section of Service Canada which has information on services available exclusively to seniors including free assistance with tax reports, Old Age Security and the Canada Pension Plan. Online forms may be downloaded from the site. Applications for long-term care facilities and drug benefit plans, for example, are easy to locate and read at one’s own pace.
More specific seniors’ health information is available at Public Health Agency of Canada’s Division of Aging and Seniors site.
Another trustworthy online source is the Health Canada website. Health Canada is the federal department responsible for helping Canadians maintain and improve their health. This large and comprehensive site has a useful A to Z index of all the information and services featured, as well as a “help” option that shows additional ways visitors can explore the site and find answers to frequently asked questions.
How to steer clear of wrong information
Although government websites are generally trusted to provide quality information, it is important to know how to assess and filter out unreliable or incorrect advice, especially when reading about health and wellness.
To that end, the American-based Medical Library Association has posted a handy user’s guide to finding and evaluating web-based health information.
Reading this guide before beginning an Internet search is a smart way to avoid misleading and potentially harmful information. Good to know, for example, is that professional organizations such as scientific or research institutions will be identified by “.org” at the end of their web address.
Other sites geared to seniors
The Internet may also be used as a tool for planning educational vacations and taking part in virtual communities. Elderhostel Inc. is for seniors interested in educational travel. The site features travel package options, reviews from other “elderhostelers,” and information about what physical activities will be required on a given trip, such as “walking up to three miles,” “cobblestone roads” and “stairs.”
Older adults confined to home because of an illness or disability can join virtual social networks on the Internet to help them stay connected. These sites bring people with common interests together to exchange ideas and information. Online social networking is not just for younger generations, but can be used from middle age on as part of a healthy aging strategy.