What is the secret to aging well?

Undergoing a DEXA Scan at the Elisabeth Bruyère Hospital to determine my bone mineral density

Undergoing a DEXA Scan at the Elisabeth Bruyère Hospital to determine my bone mineral density

I don’t usually pick up my home phone when I see a 1-800 number displayed on Caller ID. I’m suspicious that a telemarketer may pressure me into buying a timeshare property. But I’m glad that I picked up the phone a couple of months ago.

When I answered the phone, I was told that my name had been selected at random and was then asked if I would like to participate in the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging (CLSA). I had previously heard about this study. It is a long-term collaborative study of health and aging – the largest ever undertaken in Canada. For a person like me who advocates for research of societal relevance, receiving the phone call was a bit like winning the lottery. I immediately replied yes.

CLSA is an important study. My baby boomer generation is now entering its geriatric phase. In fact, by 2026 one in five Canadians will be age 65 or older. So the topic of healthy aging is important to me. We need to learn more about the process of aging. What is the secret to aging well? What is the impact of aging on the health care system?

Today I spent my afternoon at the Elisabeth Bruyère Hospital campus in Ottawa undergoing a variety of baseline tests as a recently recruited subject. The CLSA collects information on the changing biological, medical, psychological, social, lifestyle and economic aspects of the subjects’ lives as we age. I provided my medical history, and underwent a battery of lab tests to evaluate my heart and lung function, strength, balance, cognition, memory, bone density, body composition, hearing and vision. And I donated blood (11 tubes!) and urine samples. I’ll repeat this assessment every three years so that the CLSA folks can track my aging process.

The Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging represents a $50 million investment by the federal and provincial governments and some universities. It is money well spent. The CLSA is more than a study. In fact, it’s probably better to call it a data and biobank resource. It is an invaluable resource that will be accessed by hundreds of researchers from multiple disciplines for decades to come. The researchers will analyze the data to answer the critical questions about aging well. The results will allow clinicians to improve the delivery of geriatric health care and allow policy-makers to better understand the impact of non-medical factors (e.g. economic prosperity and social changes) on people as we age.

I’m so glad I picked up my phone and was given the opportunity to participate in the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging. It will be a 20 year commitment for me and the other 50,000 men and women who have signed up. Ha! Perhaps I should contact film director Richard Linklater (of ‘Boyhood’ fame) and suggest that he follow our stories for the next two decades. We could call the movie ‘Seniorhood’. I wonder how I will have aged in 2035? Still active and healthy, I hope.

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