NIA R24 grant to fund five-year methodological research network

August 3, 2022

Contact: Jon Meerdink, meerdink@umich.edu

ANN ARBOR — The National Institute on Aging has awarded a five-year R24 grant to a team from the Institute for Social Research intended to advance the methodological techniques used in longitudinal studies of aging.

The team, which includes Brady West, Sunghee Lee, and Esther Friedman, will work to build a network dedicated to improving survey methodology for studying aging populations. Through the use of new and refined techniques, the team hopes to address key issues related to the repeated measurement of aging populations, such as recruitment and attrition as well as acceptance of new survey data collection technologies.

“There’s also a notable shortcoming of longitudinal aging data on minority populations,” said West, who will serve with Lee as a principal investigator on the project. “We’re trying to bring together researchers who are working on these kinds of longitudinal studies to discuss the research that is needed to extend and advance the methodological work that’s being done in this area.”

The grant will fund 12 pilot projects over its five year lifespan, supporting four major areas where the team hopes to achieve methodological progress. 

The first area of focus will address methods and novel design ideas for creating more longitudinal data on aging minority populations. The second area of focus will address a key problem in longitudinal research related to aging populations: attrition.

“Especially in aging populations, people don’t necessarily want to stay involved. They’re not as engaged in these studies,” he said. “What data collection strategies can we use to minimize rates of attrition so that we’re keeping people in these studies for as long as possible as we’re following them over time?”

The project’s third area of focus, new technologies for data collection, could also help to address the attrition issues.

“If we’re trying to keep people engaged, we’re trying to make it easy for people to participate in these studies,” said West. “What new technologies can we employ? Things like Apple watches, Fitbits, and so on that aging individuals can wear without any problem, enabling passive data collection.”

Finally, the network will address consent-related issues, which could help to improve the quality of the data collected in these studies. West says that if survey respondents give consent to have their data linked to other data sources, it can dramatically improve data quality.

“We’re working to increase rates of consent when physical and biological measurements, like blood draws and hair samples, for example, are requested from participants,” he said. “We’re also interested in consent for linking records from other administrative data sources. That’s the wave of the future in these studies, and trying to increase the rate at which people agree to provide that kind of biological, administrative, or physical data, like grip strength, is critical. These are very important markers of health and how well people are aging.”

The project will include a network website that will serve as a home base for researchers in the network to connect and share findings and to respond to the group’s request for pilot project applications. The grant will also fund several methodological workshops that will be offered at no cost to researchers, in addition to a methodological consulting service. If the grant draws the anticipated responses, new collaborations and findings should be ready for publication as soon as early 2023.