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Baltimore-Area Research on Aging Improves Health of People 50+

AARP lends a hand by recruiting participants

At the center of the hub is the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging, America's longest-running biomedical, social and behavioral study of human aging.

Based at the NIA Clinical Unit at Harbor Hospital, it was launched in 1958 to distinguish changes resulting from natural aging from those attributed to disease or other causes. A few of its findings:

  • Older people can cope better with stress than young adults.
  • When older men and younger men consume equal amounts of alcohol, the reaction times and thinking processes are dulled more in the older men.
  • Short-term visual memory declines over time, but vocabulary increases until people are in their 80s and then declines only slightly.
  • Personality has a greater effect on happiness than physical health. Social, generous and goal-oriented older adults are happier.

Many of these studies produced what is now considered common-sense advice about healthy eating and exercise. They have debunked assumptions that older people cannot improve their health or retain their independence.

Lyketsos said he expects Baltimore will continue as a leader in this field of research, but more studies are needed.

"I see patients and families every day who say, 'What can I do?' and most of the time I don't have evidence-based research to say, 'You should do this' or 'You should do that.' It's still more an art than a science," he said.

Recruiting announcements for Baltimore-area research are posted on the AARP Maryland website. Go online to join the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging or call 410-350-3941.

Effie Dawson is a writer living in Arnold, Md.

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