Fact #1: With about $2.5 billion in annual funding, aging research is in the top 20 research categories supported by the National Institutes of Health.*

That gives me another opportunity to test my contention that taking a couple of seconds to think about where to start searching for medical information instead of automatically calling up your favorite all-purpose search engine will give you much more reliable and actionable results.

As always, my go-to starting point for broad subjects like “aging” is MedlinePlus.gov, a service of the National Library of Medicine (disponible en español también), or NLM.

Typing “aging” in the search box gives me a page with short introduction, well over 2,000 links to authoritative information—ranked in order from the broadest categories (Seniors’ Health) to more specialized ones (Aging with HIV), and the ability to refine my search by either type (news, videos and tutorials, etc.) or keyword (for example, aging and cancer, the brain or exercise)

Fact #2: While some aspects of aging are inevitable, a healthy lifestyle that features eating a balanced diet, keeping body and mind active, not smoking, getting regular checkups and adopting safety habits to avoid accidents and prevent falls are some of the most effective things you can do to “stay healthy and active as you age,” according to a summary of research written by the National Institute on Aging for MedlinePlus.

Fact #3: The two greatest environmental causes of excess wrinkles are exposure to sunlight and cigarette smoking, which you can find by clicking on the result #2 from the MedlinePlus “aging” page.

Fact #4: “Any symptom in an elderly patient should be considered a drug side effect until proved otherwise.” This sage piece of advices comes from the Brown University Long-term Care Quality, Letter, 1995, which I learned after scanning the list of keywords suggested by MedlinePlus, clicking on “drug” and following the first link to Caregivers’ Guide to Medications and Aging.

Fact #5: Medicare does not pay for long-term stays in nursing homes (the average Medicare-covered stay is 22 days). Only Medicaid (which is available only your income is below a certain level, you meet certain state requirements and you apply for and are accepted into the program) pays for long-term nursing home care. Follow link #9, which covers nursing homes, after refining your MedlinePlus’s search for “aging” by type—in this case: “Health Topics.” (Going to have to ask the folks at the NLM what the difference is between a keyword and a type.)

Fact #6: Air pollution is more likely to kill people aged 65 years and older than it is to kill younger people, according to one of the many research studies about aging that you can access for free, using MedlinePlus as a starting point. (Remember, always scroll all the way down any of the 900+ “Health Topics” pages in MedlinePlus if you’re looking for more specialized or technical information—still one of my best tips for getting the most out of that particular website.)

And now, for comparison purposes, what do you learn if you enter the word “aging” into any of the more popular search engines?

Google’s top result directed me to the National Institute on Aging. (Thanks, their information was already included in my MedlinePlus search, along with dozens of other authoritative websites.) Yahoo and Bing sent me to the Wikipedia entry on aging first. (Wikipedia is great for some things but I wouldn’t want to depend on it for medical information).

Once again, MedlinePlus gave me the most reliable results in the shortest period of time with the added advantage of allowing me to easily direct my search toward the broadest overviews, practical advice or more detailed scientific research studies.

*As you might expect, clinical research is number 1 category of funding at the NIH, followed by genetics, prevention and biotechnology.

Previous posts in The Quest series:

My 2 Favorite Tricks for Searching PubMed

Get the Lowdown on the Pills You’re Popping

$84,000 Miracle Cure Costs Less Than $150 to Make

How To Get A Medical Librarian to Do Your Search for Free

Practical Advice for Online Searches

Or click on this tag: how-to-search-medical-info