First Results for the CLSA

Researchers interested in the health and well-being of Canadians now literally have access to a genuine trove of information to support their scientific work. A first set of data from the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging (CLSA) is now available online, offering a snapshot of Canadians aged 45 to 85. The Statistical Analysis Centre (SAC), based at the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre (RI-MUHC), plays a key role in managing the information gathered for the CLSA.

The CLSA will track 50,000 Canadians aged 45 to 85 every three years for 20 years. The platform offered to researchers contains a broad range of data covering any biological, medical, psychological, social, economic or lifestyle change throughout this period in a person's life.

“Until recently, studies on aging fell into one of two categories: those looking at the social aspects of old age and those focused on disease. Our study is unique because it combines both and includes participants as young at 45,” said Dr. Christina Wolfson, the CLSA co-principal investigator and a researcher at the RI-MUHC as well as a professor with the departments of medicine and epidemiology, biostatistics and occupational health at McGill University.

Two strategies are used to collect data from CLSA participants. In one, data are gathered through telephone interviews with 20,000 participants; in the other, the remaining 30,000 participants are met at home followed by a complete physical assessment. The recruitment and baseline assessments for the participants interviewed by telephone have been completed. The data are now available to researchers. The interviews include detailed questions on the physical, emotional, and general health status of participants.

"For example, if you want to know the number of people who reported having Parkinson’s disease or high-blood pressure or who have retired and then returned to the work force, you can find it in the study,” Dr. Wolfson explained. “Participants are also asked about their family structure, retirement plans and financial situation. This information can be used by health professionals, epidemiologists, sociologists, psychologists, government agencies and pretty much anybody interested in health research and health policy.”

This kind of study is essential to understanding how these factors interact with each other, according to Dr. Hélène Payette, who is the CLSA's lead site investigator at the CSSS-IUGS's Research Centre on Aging, a researcher at the Research Centre on Aging, and a professor at the Université de Sherbrooke's faculty of medicine and health sciences.

"The aging process among individuals is so complex and heterogenous that we really need these population studies with a large number of participants in order to explore all the questions that we have about aging."

Among the 11 CLSA data collection sites, the RI-MUHC is the only housing the Statistical Analysis Centre (SAC) where a team examines the quality and reliability of the data and prepares it to be released to researchers.

"We are the stewards of this information," said Dr. Wolfson. “It is a humbling responsibility to ensure it is kept anonymous and confidential and that these data are released according to the guidelines of the CLSA. We also keep our participants’ expectations for the use of these data in mind during this process.”

So far, more than 24,000 participants have been recruited and assessed. Recruitment is expected to end sometime during the summer of 2015, after which the initial follow up of participants will begin. The data and biospecimens from those 30,000 participants will be released in 2016.

Research about previous generations cannot predict the needs of Baby Boomers as they age. "Everybody suspects that the Baby Boomers will age differently from their parents. Society has changed. People are staying in the workforce longer than before. There are new treatments for diseases. We’ll be able to see in real time how these changes in their lives affect their health, and how changes in their health affect their lives,” she explained.

The ultimate objective of the CLSA platform is to provide data that will be used by researchers throughout the country in projects that will improve the health of Canadians.

"This will be the legacy that we wanted for all scientists and experts in the field of research interested by aging. Researchers who have participated in the CLSA do not have precedence over others or exclusive access," explained Dr. Payette.

According to Dr. Wilson, success of the study at the national level over the next 20 years will depend on the use the scientific community makes of it.

The CLSA is a strategic initiative of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the infrastructure needed to collect the data is supported by a Canada Foundation for Innovation Award.


For direct online acess to the data portal:


Source: McGill University Health Centre and Université de Sherbrooke

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