Here's an interesting story in today's Washington Post, about a long-term study of hundreds of people, and how they age. 

Excerpts from: Body of Evidence, by Lori Aratani, Washington Post Staff Writer, The Washington Post, Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Every year hundreds of people travel to Baltimore for an unusual purpose. They are not here to tour the city's aquarium or sample its fabled blue crabs. They are not in search of fame or money. Other than free lodging, they receive nothing in exchange for their visit, which entails a certain amount of discomfort.

No, these folks, some of whom have made this journey for decades, believe the trip is worth their time and expense because how they live -- calculated according to everything from the strength of their grip to how many apples they consume in a month -- may offer clues to how the rest of us might live better, longer, healthier lives.

These individuals -- homemakers, retirees, doctors and myriad others -- are participants in the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging (BLSA), the country's longest-running study of aging.

Since 1958, a total of more than 1,400 volunteers have agreed to regularly undergo in-depth physicals and memory and other screenings conducted by the study's physicians. The resulting data span more than half a century and are a gold mine for researchers interested in the aging process.

This is no vacation. During their stay, participants will have a physical that goes well beyond sticking their tongues out and saying "ahhhhh." They rarely will sit for more than 30 minutes before they are whisked away for another exam or stuck with another needle. Sprott, now in his 12th year in the study, confirms that the pace can be brutal.

Researchers take routine measures (temperature, blood pressure and weight), but participants also undergo more sophisticated tests. Echocardiograms help researchers examine hearts, and spirometry tests measure lung function. In addition to collecting blood and urine, researchers might also take samples of the participants' breath.

Even simple tests can provide valuable insight. Researchers will evaluate a participant's grip strength, which previous BLSA research has shown can predict whether someone might be at higher risk of complications after surgery or more likely to die prematurely.

Please go to this url for the complete story----


Some of you have already reached this milestone, and I know others are hoping the world blows up before it happens to them, but  -- if we’re lucky enough – someday we all turn 65. My big day is right around the corner.

Omigod, how could someone so young get so old?

It’s not like this date with destiny slipped up on me, exactly, but still, I’m having a hard time processing what should be just another birthday. After all, we’re only a day older on our birthday than we were the day before, right?

The undeniable proof of my impending old age is imprinted like a watermark in the Medicare card that arrived by mail recently.

There it is. Looks just like the one my parents carried around, all red, white and blue. But if you tilt the card ever so slightly into the light, you’ll notice the words “very, very old” are woven right into the paper!

When my husband turned 65 a few years, I handled his Medicare sign up and paperwork, efficient new wife that I was. It wasn’t hard to do, just time consuming. I read the stuff Medicare sent in the mail, outlined his options, picked a drug plan and Medigap provider, then sent out all the forms. Bingo! He hardly noticed the difference between his old health plan and Medicare, except now he has a lot more jingle in his pocket after every office visit and pharmacy run.

Was I jealous! My health insurance cost more than $600 dollars a month, and I was way too healthy to enjoy it! Once I married Dave, left the rat race, and started taking better care of myself, my health turned normal for my age, as they say.

How I longed for the day when I could get Medicare, too! Of course, I was blocking what cliff I had to go over to qualify. 

Truth be told, I’d been sucking money out of the system for years. My 40s and 50s were medical disasters, but that's another story. The high premiums I paid in my 60s were simply part of payback time.

Six months ago, my mother’s slow decline into the netherworld of Alzheimer’s consumed large amounts of my energy and time. She lived in a nursing home 350 miles away, and it might as well have been 3,500.

Ignoring common sense and my husband’s pleas, I drove down and back on a single day to see her, every few weeks. It was such a grueling trip, I spent only two or three hours with her, so I could complete the six-hour trip down and six back up north without losing it on the highway. 

And then it happened, just before Christmas. Almost silently and with as much grace as a person can muster in her condition, she slipped out of this world. Dave and I were with her and in that instant, everything in my life changed.

Since her departure, I’ve had a hard time completing tasks, even small ones. I’m told that’s normal. 

Life oozes by, one day at a time.

I still haven’t written to some of her relatives and friends, but will, someday. I keep saying I must write thank you notes to some kind folks who helped us through the difficult times. What’s left of her stuff sits in piles in our extra room, remnants of a life that seemed so permanent, so important, I couldn’t imagine the earth spinning after her death.

But, it did.

And, now I see how it will continue to spin, even after mine and yours. And, that’s the way it should be.

Which takes me back to turning 65. It's just so predictable and so ordinary. Somehow, I guess I thought I would follow a different path. How and to what, I don't know.

But, maybe for the first time, I’m ready to admit to myself that most likely, I’ll finish out my life the old-fashioned way, like she did.

With little drama. Few people around me. Barely any noise or fanfare.

One day, I’ll breathe, then not breathe, and be carted off within the hour by a strong young woman who’ll clean my bed to make it nice for the next old lady.

And, that’s okay, because it’s the way things are and are supposed to be. The longer I live, the more normal are my life and my expectations.