A Boom in Aging Research

UBC Reports | Vol. 53 | No. 1 | Jan. 4, 2007

By Colin Reid, Assist. Prof.
Health Studies, UBC Okanagan, and co-leader of the B.C. Network for Aging Research

"The boomers are coming! The boomers are coming!"

It’s an alert call that Canadian researchers in health and aging hear loud and clear. Canada’s baby boomers are about to reach retirement age in huge numbers — and by 2026, one in five Canadians will be 65 or older. So what are we going to do about it?

As we prepare for the on-rushing "age quake" we need to better understand aging in all its complex facets -– so the next big thing in this field will be one of the largest long-term studies of aging ever undertaken anywhere in the world.

The Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging (CLSA) will have huge reach. Starting in 2008, some 50,000 Canadian men and women between the ages 40 and 79 will be followed for a period of at least 20 years. The research team includes experts from across Canada in biology, genetics, clinical research, social sciences, economics, psychology, nutrition, health services, statistics, epidemiology, and population health.

Imagine what we will learn from such a large and long-term project. Data will be gathered about clinical, biological, psychosocial, lifestyle, nutrition, environmental, economic and health services aspects of aging. These data will be collected to understand how individually — and in combination — they have impact on the function of the circulatory, brain, musculoskeletal, respiratory and endocrine systems of the aging population.

The inevitable wave of seniors has helped prompt the creation of research focused on improving quantity and quality of life. An enormous range of aging research activity is currently underway in British Columbia, and even more is being planned.

The British Columbia Network for Aging Research (BCNAR), sponsored by the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research, was recently launched to increase aging research capacity by bringing together researchers from different disciplines, academic institutions, community organizations and health regions.

The BCNAR has six co-leaders, representing B.C.’s research-intensive universities and the province’s five health authorities. Research projects are examining critically important issues ranging from baby boomer health dynamics to studying falls among the elderly. For example, my area of interest at UBC Okanagan is in the quality of care and outcomes for institutionalized seniors with dementia, and BCNAR co-leader Dr. Lynn Beattie, Professor Emeritus with UBC’s Department of Medicine, is investigating diagnosis and treatment of disorders such as Alzheimer disease.

It is through intensive research –- initiatives such as the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging, and the many researchers working with the BCNAR — that we will be able to move beyond a snapshot of the adult Canadian population to observe and understand the disease, disability and psychosocial processes related to our aging population.

For more information about health and aging research, visit the BCNAR website at www.aginghealthresearch.ca.