Sarah D: Compute your way to better health

Need a way to convince the techno-challenged person in your life to try to go on-line? Tell them it TMs good for their health.

We TMve talked about the benefits senior citizens can gain from a trip on the information superhighway. To recap: it TMs fast, it TMs fun, it TMs a way to stay connected and keep your brain sharp. But here TMs another real benefit for seniors"the internet is a great way to stay on top of your health care needs.

Access to the internet is a wonderful research tool, says Todd Shackelford, assistant director of the West Central Illinois Area Agency on Aging. He finds more seniors surf these days to learn about their medicines, diagnoses and treatment options. You can also take the pain out of endlessly staying on hold on the telephone by registering for things like Medicare online.

Your computer may become even more of a player in your health care in the future, as hospitals, doctors and caregivers catch up with available technology. For instance, Microsoft recently introduced a program called Microsoft HealthVault Community Connect . Used in conjunction with a webcam, it has some fascinating possibilities. In a nutshell, it TMs a way for your caregiver to keep virtual tabs on your health. The camera allows a caregiver to actually look in on a patient and assess basic health. Together, caregivers, family members and patients can track lab results, hospital discharge instructions, referrals and medications.

Medications warrant vigilant observance. According to the New England Institutes of Health , up to one-half of patients in the United States don TMt take their medications as prescribed, costing the country 290 billion annually in avoidable medical spending.

You have thousands of websites to choose from when it comes to health research. It TMs a bit overwhelming really. A word of warning from Shackleford: Pick reliable sites.

He TMs right on target. There are some real quacks out there, willing to sell you junk you don TMt need or that can even harm you. My friend TMs mother had that experience. One of those cranked up websites sold her medicine that killed her. I TMll tell you her story in my next column. It TMs pretty shocking.

Until then, surf safely. Check out sites like the Centers for Disease Control , WebMD or .

As always, comments are appreciated, and your stories welcome. Take care ~Sarah