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Like the rest of the world, Canada’s population is aging. As more and more people enter their golden years, it is important that we understand the many aspects of getting older to ensure people live long, healthy and fulfilling lives. Dr. Christina Wolfson, senior scientist at the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre (RI-MUHC) and Professor of Epidemiology and Medicine at McGill University is co-lead of a national study that is unravelling the process of aging.

“What we knew about aging, up until fairly recently, was based on research from earlier generations,” says Dr. Wolfson. “It’s really important that we understand the process of aging in people today.”

The Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging (CLSA) is a 20-year research study of more than 50,000 individuals from across Canada recruited between the ages of 45 and 85. Launched in 2010 by Dr. Wolfson and collaborators Dr. Parminder Raina of McMaster University and Dr. Susan Kirkland of Dalhousie University, this massive government-funded study will provide much needed information to better understand how Canadians can live long and live well.

“Our goal is to look at all of the aspects and trajectories of aging to see if there is something we can intervene on or change that will help people to get the best out of their lives,” says Dr. Wolfson.

The study collects data from participants every three years on a wide range of topics. In addition to taking some basic measurements of blood pressure, vision and hearing, participants have their physical and cognitive abilities assessed, and are asked about their social and living situations. One pressing question is why some older adults age much healthier than others.

“You can’t categorize all 75-year-olds exactly the same. For example, there are the incredibly healthy people who are running marathons, and then there are people the same age who have physical limitations and appear to be having difficulty coping,” says Dr. Wolfson.

Now in its twelfth year since launch, the CLSA is sharing data with over 350 research groups worldwide to unlock new knowledge about aging.

“Researchers who have great ideas do not have to design their own studies. They can come to the Canadian Longitudinal Study of Aging and get the data they need,” says Dr. Wolfson. “This is going to speed up the ability to look at many aspects of aging.”

One of the recent initiatives of the CLSA is to study dementia. Hundreds of thousands of Canadians live with the disease, but we have no estimate of how many undiagnosed cases there could be across the country. New funding is enabling the CLSA to probe this question to better understand the risk factors for dementia, which could lead to earlier diagnosis and treatment.

Overall, the CLSA hopes to shed light on the process of aging so people across Canada and worldwide can live not just long, but happy and healthy lives.

“None of this work would have been possible without the dedication of the CLSA participants,” says Dr. Wolfson. “They continue to complete regular assessments with little benefit to themselves.”

To learn more about the fascinating research happening at the MUHC, visit www.muhcfoundation.com/stories.