Newswise — Researchers from Dalhousie, McMaster, and McGill universities are leading a new study will increase the understanding of common health problems affecting seniors.

One of the most comprehensive studies on aging ever undertaken, the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging (CLSA) will follow 50,000 Canadians over two decades and look into the many factors affecting them as they age.

"Our population is rapidly aging, and the better we are able to understand the factors that allow people to maintain their health through mid life and into their older years, as well as adjust to declines in health, the better we will be able to inform interventions, programs and policies that promote healthy aging," says Susan Kirkland, associate professor with the Departments of Community Health and Epidemiology and Medicine at Dalhousie University.

"Ultimately, we hope to improve not just the number of years lived," she adds, "but how those years are lived."

The CLSA will follow 50,000 Canadians, aged 45-85 years at the time of recruitment, over the next 20 years. It's estimated that study organizers will be hiring as many as 160 researchers and research co-ordinators, laboratory staff and IT systems personnel over the next year at 10 centres across the country.

As well as Dr. Kirkland, principal investigators for the study are Parminder Raina, from McMaster University, and Christina Wolfson, McGill University and Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre. They'll lead the multi-disciplinary research team comprised of researchers from 26 universities across Canada.

Those researchers will collect information on the changing biological, medical, psychological, social and economic aspects of the participants' lives. The design and extended follow-up of the CLSA will enable the study team to look at more than a brief snapshot of the adult Canadian population and to critically examine health transitions and trajectories over a longer-term period. Statistics Canada has committed important and invaluable in-kind contributions to the design of the survey and the recruitment of participants.

CLSA participants will be randomly selected from across Canada and, as such, Canadians will not be able to proactively volunteer to be part of the study. Once enrolled, participants will be studied at three-year intervals and will be followed for at least 20 years.

"Some people age in a healthy fashion despite many physical health challenges, while others who are in good physical health age less optimally. What explains this phenomenon? The study will answer questions that are relevant to decision-makers to improve the health of Canadians," said Dr. Raina, the study's lead principal investigator.

In addition to starting at mid-life, the CLSA is the first study of its kind to collect social and economical retirement factors, as well as clinical and biological measures. More than 70 longitudinal studies have taken place worldwide and most focused on only one condition or on people over 65 years of age.

The federal government is investing $30 million to support the study, launched Thursday, May 21 at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont.

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