By Nancy Kriseman

AJT Featured Columnist

Nancy Kriseman LCSW

Enter “aging services Atlanta” into one of the popular web search engines and you’ll get over 93,000 entries returned.  The amount of available information on the internet can be overwhelming.  So how do you evaluate websites and find reputable, quality information?  Here are some questions to help:

Is This an Ad?  Search engine companies make money by selling ads.  The ads are directly related to the words or phrases you use.  For example, if you enter “nursing homes,” into Google search, the first several entries at the top of the page will be ads.  Some people think that the best or most popular places show up first. Many people don’t notice the faint little grey phrase, “ads related to” on the top of the page. This doesn’t mean that ads are inherently bad, but one should simply be aware that each of these companies paid to appear in this position.

Who Sponsors the Website?Make sure the sponsor or hosting organization is clear and apparent. Some websites have been created for the sole purpose of selling a medication, product or service, and the host may not be disclosed. Look to see if there is a section titled “about us,” or something similar.  Reputable sites disclose who they are, who sponsors them (if applicable) and whether or not any government, non-profit, business, or commercial entity has contributed funding, services, or material to the site.

What is the Domain? Another clue to discovering the sponsor is the “domain” name or the last three letters that follow the ‘dot.’ Certain domains are “restricted” to particular organizations, such as military (.mil), government (.gov), or educational institutions (.edu). Federal and state government websites have a .gov ending, and their content often undergoes an extensive review process.  Theoretically, their purpose is to provide unbiased information, free from outside influence. Likewise, academic and educational institutions are committed to educational information and can be useful in providing objective and unbiased material.  Non-profit organizations were once designated by ‘.org’. However, these sites no longer have to prove their non-profit status.  Generally speaking, a website with a .com ending represents individuals, businesses or companies.  The site may have been created with the purpose of selling its goods and services, but this does not mean that the site does not contain valuable information.  Evaluate it, understand its purpose and scrutinize its content.

What is the Purpose of the Website?Is it evident? Is it to sell a product or service? Provide information? Look for a mission statement or a description of the organization. Ask yourself if the information is unbiased. Companies exist to make a profit, so expect that they will promote their goods or services. As is the case with most things, there are trustworthy companies, as well as those without such integrity.

Does the Website have Contact Information? The site should provide clear contact information.  Look for a physical address and telephone number.  If no physical address exists, be cautious, as the business may employ call-representatives from around the country. This, in and of itself, may not be negative, but if you are looking for local services, you don’t want to be talking to a call center two thousand miles away.

What is the Quality of the Content?Content Quality has many different dimensions.

o   Are statements referenced or substantiated?  Where the information is coming from should be clear.

o   Is the information factual?Make sure the information provided can be verified from an independent source. And are sources clearly identified?

o   Does the site provide useful links? Many reputable sites will provide useful links to help you.  But some sites only list links that have been paid for.  Unfortunately, it is not always clear which organizations have paid fees.

o   What is the expertise of the individual or organization?If the website represents a professional or organization, can you independently validate their claims?  Do professional staff members list their expertise, training and licensed academic degrees?

o   How current is the information? Look for a notation, often at the bottom of a page, indicating when the content was created, last reviewed or updated. Good content, especially medical information, should be reviewed and updated on a regular basis.

o   Who created the content?  This is particularly important for sites providing medical information. The site should list the qualifications of the author, reviewers and/or editorial board.

I hope that after reading this article you will be more equipped to approach researching elder care resources in a mindful and intentional way.  There are many helpful services, organizations and professionals out there. As I advocate in my book, The Mindful Caregiver, it is critical that caregivers reach out for help and develop a “circle of support” around them.

Nancy Kriseman is an author, of The Mindful Caregiver: Finding Ease in the Caregiving Journey and licensed clinical social worker who specializes in working with older people and their families.  This column is about helping families make the best decisions possible and be proactive when supporting and caring for elder family members. To contact Nancy, visit her website at www.nancykriseman.com, go to her Facebook page, or follow her on twitter @GeriatricMSW.