The retention of older people in longitudinal studies: a review of the literature

Bhamra, Suneeta, Tinker, Anthea, Mein, Gill, Ashcroft, Richard and Askham, Janet (2008) The retention of older people in longitudinal studies: a review of the literature. Quality in Ageing and Older Adults, 9(4), pp. 27-35. ISSN (print) 2044-1827


Research that follows people over a period of time (longitudinal or panel studies) is increasingly recognised as of great importance in helping us to understand the ageing process and changes over time in the lives of older people. If people drop out of studies - which older people are more likely to do - the value of the study diminishes. This research draws on evidence from ongoing and previous longitudinal studies of people aged 55 and over to examine what factors encourage the retention of participants and what causes them to drop out. The research is synthesising existing evidence, drawing together the experiences of researchers involved in longitudinal studies, and collecting some new evidence about the views of survey participants. This article reports on the first part of the research by drawing together evidence from other studies. These show that there are some factors which are related to attrition whereas for others the evidence is mixed. Methods employed by these studies to reduce attrition and retain participants are examined. It must be noted that apart from the consistent finding that attrition is associated with age, education, socio-economic status and cognitive impairment, not all studies examined the same variables; some only being explored by one study. This makes it difficult to draw any further conclusions and indicates that attrition needs to be addressed in a uniform manner by more studies. This article identifies some implications for policy makers and practitioners.

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