NOTE: Opinions expressed in this blog post are solely those of the authors, Olivia Aguiar and Monique Sekhon, and do not express the views or opinions of our employer.
This past summer, we had the opportunity to work on the Healthy Aging Study being conducted by the Genome Sciences Centre (GSC) at the British Columbia Cancer Agency. The goal of this study is to identify genetic factors associated with healthy aging and resistance to age-related diseases. The participants, known as ‘Super Seniors’, are all 85 years of age or over and have never been diagnosed with any major age-related diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, pulmonary disease, diabetes or dementia. The goal of this study is to ensure that individuals live to the upper end of their life span in good health and with a good quality of life.
We were introduced to the study through the Co-op program at SFU. The Principal Investigator, Dr. Angela Brooks-Wilson, brought us onto the study as Healthy Aging Study Interviewers. Our role as interviewers was to get a better understanding of the lifestyle and environmental factors contributing to the longevity and good health of the Super Seniors. Over the past four months, we visited 124 Super Seniors and travelled over 3,000 kilometres between the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island. The oldest Super Senior we interviewed is currently 104 years of age. From Qualicum Beach all the way to Agassiz, we received direct insight into how these individuals live their day-to-day lives, listened to their amazing life experiences, but most importantly, built wonderful relationships.
We started our work with the Healthy Aging Study at the end of April, where we underwent training with our research team and learned details about the project, our team members, and the current findings. Then, it was off to the Island for Monique and off to Greater Vancouver for Olivia! At that point, both of us began to schedule our in-person interviews and prepare ourselves for the long drives and plentiful phone calls. Over the next few months, we had the opportunity to travel to and meet with this fascinating and inspiring group of individuals. When we weren’t in interviews, we were scheduling, updating databases and spreadsheets, or comparing notes about our experiences. Working remotely was something that both of us got to experience for the first time, and it was always so exciting to come back to the GSC for monthly lab meetings and update everyone on the funny quirks and motivating achievements of our Super Seniors.
Since all of the participants in this study are 85+ years of age, let’s take a quick trip back in time to give you some perspective on the era in which they were raised:
1920 to 1928: Women granted the right to vote in the U.S., first Olympic Winter Games, bubble gum invented, Penicillin discovered, sliced bread invented, the first talking movie
1929: The Great Depression begins, stock market crashes
1932 to 1938: Air conditioning invented, cheeseburger created, Monopoly board game released by Parker Brothers, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs becomes the first full-length animated cartoon
1939: World War II begins
1941 to 1944: Jeep invented, M&Ms created, Mount Rushmore completed
1945 to 1948: Microwave oven invented, United Nations founded, World War II ends, bikinis introduced, “Big Bang" Theory formulated
The Super Seniors come from different backgrounds, each with their own unique story. Some experienced the consequences of the ‘Dirty 30s’ and World War II first-hand, while others were far from the suffering and crossfire. Many of the Super Seniors were not born in British Columbia, but had migrated from all over the world, settling here at different times in their lives. They have travelled to many countries and have a variety of interests/hobbies such as biking around the world, playing bridge, sailing, joining a band, and singing in church choirs. However, even with all their differences, what fascinates us as interviewers is how similar these participants are in terms of character.
So, qualitatively speaking, what makes someone a Super Senior? Find out in Part 2!
Rosenberg, J. (n.d.). Timeline of the 20th Century. Retrieved August 10, 2016, from http://history1900s.about.com/od/timelines/tp/1920timeline.htm