National Geographic : 1997 Nov
I am visiting Resnick at the NIA's Geron tology Research Center in Baltimore. The cen ter is a mecca for aging research and home to the Baltimore Longitudinal Study on Aging, the world's largest and longest running effort to track all the events that add up to old age. I look at the magnetic resonance images on the screen, and, indeed, the younger brain completely fills the skull and is mostly solid, with small pockets of fluid as is normal for a brain. But the 83-year-old brain has pulled away from the skull, and the fluid-filled pock ets have grown considerably larger. I wonder aloud whether those expanding ponds of fluid are the places where all those forgotten names end up after dinner parties, and Resnick says that in a sense I may be right. Researchers suspect that the bigger the pockets, the bigger a person's chances of being dement ed. Tests of cognitive function in older people may soon answer that question. A good study on aging must track the same AGING-NEW ANSWERS TO OLD QUESTIONS people year after year as they age. And that's exactly what's been happening in Baltimore since 1958, with newer tests being added as they are developed. More than 1,100 indi viduals currently participate in the study. Every two years they return to Baltimore from wherever they live (some have made the trip from as far away as India) for a full two and a half days of medical and psychological tests. By doggedly following its varied participants over the years, the Baltimore study has painted a full-spectrum picture of normal aging and the specific problems that come, sooner or later, with old age. The results read like a monologue from the world's worst hypochondriac, says Reubin RICK WEISS is a science and medicine writer for the Washington Post. This is his first assignment for the magazine. Photographer KAREN KASMAUSKI'S work has illustrated numerous NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC articles, including "Viruses" in July 1994. Both con tributors are aging baby boomers.