The National Institute on Aging’s Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging (BLSA) is America's longest-running scientific study of human aging. It began in 1958, when gerontology—the study of aging—was still very much in its infancy. Today, the BLSA is world-renowned, having generated thousands of scientific papers and made major contributions to our understanding of what it means to get older.
While there is still much to learn, two major conclusions can be drawn from the BLSA data. First, changes that occur with aging do not inevitably lead to diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, or dementia. A number of disorders that typically occur in old age are a result of disease processes, not normal aging. Second, no single, chronological timetable of human aging exists. We all age differently. In fact, in terms of change and development, there are more differences among older people than among younger people. Genetics, lifestyle, and disease processes affect the rate of aging between and within all individuals.
These fundamental facts about age and disease have led the BLSA and field of gerontology in important new directions.
The BLSA continues to be an innovative and robust study. This is thanks to its more than 1,300 volunteers who made the lifelong commitment to be part of the research. And, the BLSA promises to have a long future ahead. There are many new study questions to explore, like what factors contribute to exceptional aging. As we further pinpoint the influences of how we age, we can also think about new and more effective interventions that may prevent disease and promote healthy aging. The hope is that the BLSA will be a study that serves many generations to come.