Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging (CLSA)

Canada is experiencing an unprecedented change in the make-up of its population. By 2036, nearly one in four Canadians will be age 65 or older. With rapid demographic change now underway, there is a critical need for high-quality research on aging as well as strong evidence to support the enhancement of programs, services, policies and care.

The Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging (CLSA) was established to enable research that moves beyond a snapshot of the adult population to understand and observe the complex interplay between physical, social and psychological determinants of health over time.

The overall aims of the CLSA are:

Table of Contents

About the CLSA

The Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging (CLSA) is one of CIHR's Major Strategic Initiatives. Its development was championed by the Institute of Aging. The fundamental goal of this initiative is to mobilize experts in the community to generate the scientific content for a longitudinal research platform that will enable interdisciplinary, population-based research and evidence-based decision-making that will lead to better health and quality of life for Canadians.

The CLSA is a large, national, long-term study that will follow approximately 50,000 Canadian men and women between the ages of 45 and 85 for a period of 20 years. The study collects information on the changing biological, medical, psychological, social, and economic aspects of people's lives. These factors will be studied in order to understand how, individually and in combination, they have an impact in both maintaining health and in the development of disease and disability as people age. The CLSA will be one of the most comprehensive research platforms of its kind undertaken to date, not only in Canada but around the world.

All 50,000 participants provide a core set of data on demographic and lifestyle/behaviour measures, social measures, anthropometric measures, psychological measures, socio-economic measures, and health status measures. Thirty thousand of the 50,000 (CLSA Comprehensive) participants contribute additional information on their diet, medication use, chronic diseases and sleep patterns, as well as have physical measurements taken at a local data collection site. CLSA Comprehensive participants are also asked to provide blood and urine samples, which are collected during the site visit. The remaining 20,000 (CLSA Tracking) provide the core information set through telephone interviews.

A team of more than 160 co-investigators and collaborators from 26 Canadian universities are working together on this innovative, multidisciplinary study including: Parminder Raina (McMaster University), Christina Wolfson (McGill University) Susan Kirkland (Dalhousie University), Max Cynader (University of British Columbia), Andrew Wister (Simon Fraser University), Debra Sheets (University of Victoria), Lynne Young (University of Victoria), David Hogan (University of Calgary), Verena Menec (University of Manitoba), Larry W. Chambers (Bruyère Continuing Care), Vanessa Taler (Bruyère Continuing Care), Hélène Payette (Université de Sherbrooke) and Gerry Mugford (Memorial University).

To enable data collection and analysis, the CLSA has established the following state-of-the-art infrastructure across the country:

In April 2013, the CLSA reached the halfway point towards its recruitment goal of 50,000 participants. Recruitment of the entire CLSA baseline cohort is anticipated to be completed in 2015.


Population ageing is at the center of the policy debate in many countries. Populations projections show approximately one in four Canadians will be aged 65 and over in 2036 and that the proportion of the oldest seniors (80 years and over) will also increase sharply. Since the large baby-boom generations are approaching retirement, many people will experience the transition from work to retirement. Aging will also affect labour force growth, old age income security expenditures, the health care system as well as the demand for informal care giving and home care services. Furthermore, a growing number of older Canadians will face the combined effects of a decline in physical function, medical problems and the development of chronic diseases.

For the first time, there will be the opportunity to begin to understand the complex interplay between physical, social and psychological determinants of health, including gene-gene and gene-environment interactions. This initiative will enable research to move beyond a snapshot of the adult Canadian population to observe and understand the disease, disability and psychosocial processes that accompany aging.

The overall aims of the CLSA are:

Data Management

Given the scope and complexity of the CLSA’s data collection activities, the CLSA’s information technology experts have developed a novel software infrastructure to manage the study’s data collection requirements. The infrastructure includes four parts: a participant relationship manager (PRM), computer-assisted telephone interviewing (CATI) software, computer-assisted personal interviewing (CAPI) software, and a central data repository (CDR). Each part aggregates new and existing open-source software for specific purposes within the study. The CDR manages and stores all non-identifying data collected from CATI and CAPI systems, and will also function as a securely accessible repository for external research applicants.

Data Access

A fundamental principle of the CLSA is that data be made available to the research community as soon as it is feasible, while protecting the privacy and confidentiality of participants. Ease of access and timely use of the data are critical to the success of CLSA research platform. The CLSA has established a Data and Sample Access Policy, which is available on the CLSA website. Researchers who are interested in accessing the data can submit an application to the CLSA Statistical Analysis Centre. Applications are reviewed by the Data and Sample Access Committee. The data for the telephone interview cohort is expected to be available in 2014.


Health Canada, Statistics Canada, the Canadian Institute for Health Information, the Canadian Association on Gerontology, the Health Charities Council of Canada, Merck Frosst Canada and the other CIHR Institutes, as members of the CLSA Steering Committee between 2002 and 2006, joined in the planning and overseeing the study's protocol development. This approach was essential in making the CLSA relevant to various sectors.

The CLSA team is also working with CIHR and Canadian experts in fields such as ethics, law and sociology, to ensure that all research is done in an ethical manner, respecting the values of Canadian society and the rights of those involved in the study. As required in Canada, the CLSA has received ethics approval from research ethics boards at all of its affiliated institutions and will continue to seek annual renewals.

The CLSA was successful in additional fundraising with a variety of partners to further support the implementation phase of the CLSA and the first wave of data collection, and continues to develop partnerships to sustain the long-term vision of the CLSA. The CLSA has developed the following partnerships:

Current partnerships are acknowledged on the Partners section of the CLSA website.

Peer Reviewed Funding

Protocol Implementation Investments:

CLSA Team funded ($23.5 million) to support the Implementation Phase which includes the first wave of recruitment and data collection on the initial tracking cohort and comprehensive cohort, follow-up on the initial tracking cohort, and management.

Protocol Development Investments:

CLSA team funded ($2,100,000) to support Content Development and Validation

Conduct of CLSA: Methodological Feasibility Studies

Development and International Peer review of CLSA Protocol

Development and International Peer review of CLSA Protocol Design

CLSA Team funded ($1,744,000) to support the Methodological Feasibility Studies

CIHR Institute of Aging issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) entitled: Protocol Design for the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging. The RFP was based on a CLSA Design Workshop held that same month in Aylmer, Quebec.

Launch and International Peer review of Request for Proposals, entitled: Protocol Design for the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging.

Meritorious CLSA team (headed by 3 principal investigators (Dr. Parminder Raina, McMaster University, Dr. Christina Wolfson, McGill University, and Dr. Susan Kirkland, Dalhousie University) funded ($462,000) to develop CLSA Protocol Design.

Capacity Building

The Institute of Aging launched a funding opportunity from 2007-2009 for CLSA Fellowships. The purpose of these fellowships is to build and strengthen research capacity and expertise in Canada in health measurement studies with emphasis on the CLSA and similar longitudinal studies of aging.


Advisory Committee on Ethical, Legal, and Social Issues (ELSI) for the CLSA

The committee's mandate is to advise the Scientific Management Team leading the CLSA on actions and best practices to address ethical, legal and social issues relevant to CLSA.

CIHR Oversight

CIHR oversight during the implementation phase and the first wave of data collection of the CLSA was in the form of the International Oversight Committee (IOC) and its mandate was to provide the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) with expert advice as well as independent ongoing oversight and evaluation of the CLSA according to internationally recognized standards of excellence for science and leadership. CIHR oversight will continue in the second wave of data collection.

The full list of CLSA committees is available on the Governance section of the CLSA website.

News and Announcements

The latest news and announcements are available on the CLSA website.

September 28, 2012, Hamilton, ON – On behalf of the Honourable Leona Aglukkaq, Minister of Health, the Honourable Alice Wong, Minister of State (Seniors), delivered the opening remarks at the official grand opening and launch of the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging (CLSA) at McMaster University.

May 21, 2009, Hamilton, ON - The National launch of the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging at McMaster University in Hamilton.

Contact information

For questions about this funding initiative contact:

Jennifer Campbell
Project Lead, Major Initiatives
Priority-Driven Research
Research, Knowledge Translation and Ethics Portfolio
Telephone: 613-941-0805

For more information on the CLSA, please visit: Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging.

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