Online health research: Be cautious

This article originally appeared in the Rutland Herald.

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60 Plus

Online health research: Be cautious

by Janis Hall


You wouldn’t seek a medical diagnosis from a person who has no specialized training, or buy your medications from a flea market. You look for trusted sources of health care. The same applies to health information from the Internet. Not all sources are created equal.


Every day, all sorts of individuals and groups start new websites and “blogs” (Web logs, which are generally collections of articles on a theme). You could start a health-related website yourself for a very modest fee, and write about whatever you want for all the world to see. These sites sometimes provide valuable information, other times contain poorly researched information or opinions, and occasionally contain scams or computer viruses.


Websites offering health information are produced by a variety of sources: hospitals, universities, governments, nonprofits, bloggers and companies that produce or sell drugs, supplements or medical devices. For example, search for “fibromyalgia” using your Web browser or search engine, and you’ll get results from a variety of sources.


Some search engines such as Google try to place information from reputable sources at the top of your results. However, sponsored ad links may appear even higher up, and those are available to anyone who pays.


Commercial sites are usually indicated by “.com  ” at the end of the link. These are sometimes biased, or light on information and heavy on advertisements. In some cases a truly helpful organization uses a .com Web address, so just be discriminating. Read the fine print, think critically about what the site promotes, and it should become apparent whether the information is likely to be biased.


Most people look at the titles   of search results and click on whatever looks interesting. In contrast, you might look first at the source or Web address shown below the title of each result. Choose articles from sources that inspire confidence. For example, my fibromyalgia search shows articles from the Mayo Clinic and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). These provide information based on solid research.


NIH have “.gov  ” at the end of the link. Many government websites are excellent sources of health information. These include national sites such as   and www.   as well as regional or local sites such as the Vermont Department of Health.


Articles with “.org  ” at the end of the link usually go to a reputable nonprofit organization, but not always. Examine the site and read the fine print at the bottom of the page; you may discover it’s sponsored by a company that wants to sell you something. That doesn’t mean there’s no useful information on the site, but take it with a grain of salt.


The links that end in “.edu  ” are most often colleges, universities, and their extension services. These are usually excellent trustworthy sources of information.


Here’s a super tip I learned from a librarian: Try following your search words (such as vitamin D) with a filter. If you type site:edu after your search words, the results will come only from the websites of educational institutions. In this case, your whole search looks like this: vitamin D site:edu To exclude a kind of website, just put in a minus sign: “vitamin D –site:com” will make sure there are no  .com   pages in your search results.


Remember, you can learn a lot from the Internet, but there is no substitute for in-person care from a trained health care professional. Take care.


60 Plus is a collaboration between Senior Solutions of Southeastern Vermont and the Southwestern Vermont Council on Aging. Both can be reached by calling the Senior HelpLine at 800-642-5119.



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New to Medicare Training

New to Medicare?

Learn how to navigate through the Medicare system by  attending an informational    session regarding:

Medicare Part A and Part B

Part D Prescription Drug Coverage

Medicare Supplemental Insurance

 May 31, 2016

1:00 pm — 3:00 pm

 Southwestern  Vermont Council on Aging

 160 Benmont Ave; Suite 90

Bennington, VT

Please call or email Sandy Bartlett to register:

(802)442-5436 or

** Space is limited**

60 Plus: Consider Becoming A Volunteer

This article originally appeared in the Rutland Herald on April 27, 2016.
We encourage you to share it, but please include the above credit when forwarding, sharing or reprinting in other newspapers or newsletters. Thanks.
60 Plus:
Consider becoming a volunteer
by Heather Baker

Do you have as little as an hour or two or more of free time each week? Do you want to engage yourself in finding a greater sense of purpose and meaning in life while giving back to your community at the same time? Well, volunteering may be the answer for you.

Studies show that seniors who volunteer live longer, healthier and more fulfilling lives. If you have the time, there is a volunteer role out there for you. According to the Corporation for National and Community Service, Vermont volunteers contribute services worth over $400 million every year. About 40 percent of Vermonters ages 55 to 74 are volunteers, and 23 percent of those over 74 volunteer.

April 10-16 was National Volunteer Week all across the country. It was a time to acknowledge and recognize all of those amazing individuals in our communities who selflessly dedicate countless amounts of time and energy into giving back to their neighbors. It is also a time to take a moment to brainstorm ways in which you could volunteer a little of your time for your community.

The Southwestern Vermont Council on Aging and Senior Solutions are two of five Area Agencies on Aging across Vermont dedicated to supporting elders age 60 and older in maintaining maximum independence. SVCOA & Senior Solutions and the other three AAA’s have a wide variety of volunteer opportunities such as delivering meals to elders at home, helping at community senior meals, providing friendly visits, helping with events, and helping with Medicare Open Enrollment. By volunteering your time through one of the Area Agencies on Aging, even just an hour a week, you’ll actively help elders remain healthy and independent in your community.

One of the senior volunteer opportunities offered by the AAAs is the Senior Companion Program. The SCP is a federally funded program that matches mobile, independent seniors age 55+ with home-bound seniors who are often all alone and struggling to stay independent. The program offers a $2.65/hour tax-free stipend to income eligible companions, which does not affect eligibility for Medicaid, 3Squares, SSI or subsidized housing. Additionally, companions also receive mileage reimbursement, paid vacation, holidays and sick days.

Whether it’s providing a ride to an appointment or grocery shopping, or simply spending a little time to decrease a senior’s loneliness, Senior Companions offer hope and shed a positive light into the lives of these seniors. I can’t count how many times a client has contacted me to tell me, “I don’t know what they would do without my volunteer companion.” The long-lasting friendships that are created, coupled with the substantial positive impact that the program leaves on both the lives of the volunteers and the clients they serve is truly remarkable And it all starts with the volunteer.

If you’re an individual who wants to make a difference in the community and bring a smile to the face of a senior, please call the Senior HelpLine at 1-800-642-5119. And remember, when you volunteer, you’re not just helping others; you are also helping yourself in creating a foundation for living a longer and healthier life.

“You make a living by what you get. You make a life by what you give” — Winston Churchill

Happy volunteering!
60 Plus is a collaboration between Senior Solutions of southeastern Vermont and the Southwestern Vermont Council on Aging. Both can be reached by calling the Senior HelpLine at 800-642-5119.

Save the date! All are invited to the Senior Solutions Open House event on May 25 in Springfield VT.
Visit us on the web at and

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Senior Helpline 1.800.642.5119