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ESRA 2023 Glance Program

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Surveying Older People in Times of Crisis: Methodological Issues 1

Session Organisers Dr Michael Weinhardt (DZA German Centre of Gerontology)
Dr Jan-Lucas Schanze (GESIS – Leibniz-Institute for the Social Sciences)
Dr Michael Bergmann (Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe (SHARE))
Dr Annette Scherpenzeel (Netherlands Institute for Health Services Research (Nivel))
Dr Stefan Stuth (DZA German Centre of Gerontology)
Dr Julia Simonson (DZA German Centre of Gerontology)
TimeTuesday 18 July, 11:00 - 12:30
Room U6-02

European societies are undergoing difficult times, where the aftermath of the COVID-19-pandemic and the current energy crisis add to already existing challenges, such as drought and heat waves due to climate change. Many of these challenges impact the ageing populations in Europe in particular ways and surveys are essential to assess the life situations of the older population. National and international surveys that target and cover the ageing populations can deliver this important knowledge but, at the same time, face a range of very specific methodological issues. These include, but are not limited to:

- fieldwork management, contact strategies and participant engagement for older target groups
- age-related coverage errors of different sampling frames
- the institutionalised older population: undercoverage and interview challenges
- nonresponse bias and measurement error due to declining cognitive and physical (listening, reading) abilities
- restricted use of modes (online, mobile) and mixed-mode surveys for older people
- age-related interview challenges and the need for specific interviewer skills and training
- the use of proxy interviews or 'triad interviews' and consequences for data quality
- conversion of gate keepers who refuse / hesitate to let an older person be interviewed
- tracking /tracing of panel members, e.g., for people moving to institutions or the deceased
- data linkage: developments and new sources, for example to public health / death records
- age differences in the quality of data in face-to-face or self-administered interview modes
- the question of “vulnerability” of older respondents and ethical issues in general
- new survey tools to improve data collection and quality among older people

We invite papers addressing these or related issues of surveying the older population. We also invite papers on the adjustments necessary to survey older respondents during the recent pandemic and the consequences they had on the various aspects of total survey error.


Revisiting interviewer continuity in a panel survey of older respondents

Dr Michael Bergmann (MEA-SHARE and SHARE Berlin Institute) - Presenting Author
Dr Šime Smolić (University of Zagreb - Faculty of Economics and Business)

Conventional wisdom suggests that the same interviewers should be assigned to the same respondents in longitudinal surveys to maintain high response rates and contribute to the quality of the data collected, although this might be difficult and more costly from a survey managing perspective. For example, when respondents move between waves, travel expenses might outweigh the assumed advantage of higher familiarity between interviewer and respondent. Moreover, previous evidence on the effects of interviewer (dis-)continuity with regard to panel attrition but also data quality is mixed, suggesting a more complex interplay between interviewer and respondent (characteristics) than usually assumed. This notion yields a couple of not fully answered questions, e.g. what are relevant conditions that influence the strength and direction of interviewer (dis-)continuity effects on cooperation in a panel survey? Which role does the age of respondents (and interviewers) play in this respect? Are there patterns that can be generalized across countries in a cross-national setting? And does the interviewing style of interviewers (e.g. their persuasion strategies) influences the effect of interviewer (dis-)continuity on data quality?
To answer these questions, we focus on data from the the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe (SHARE) with its target population of respondents aged 50 years and older. These data are extended by information on interviewer characteristics made available by the national survey agencies in Croatia and Germany as well as interviewer attitudes, behaviors and expectations from an additional interviewer survey. Based on these data, we analyze potential effects of interviewer (dis-)continuity on panel attrition and data quality (e.g. item non-response) with a particular focus on the older population and give practical advice for survey managers in directing their efforts.

Can we better include people with dementia in an annual survey about elderly care?

Miss Carolin Holm (National Board of Health and Welfare - Sweden) - Presenting Author
Miss My Raquette (National Board of Health and Welfare - Sweden)

The main objective of this annual user survey is to help voice the opinions of elderly people with home care and in special housing, and to give the govern-ment, local politicians, administrators at municipalities as well as managers at home care or special housing units, the opportunity to develop elderly care with a user perspective.
The results are presented down to group level so that it’s possible for the managers to use them in their development process.
The survey receives quite a lot of criticism due to the fact that we send the questionnaires to all individuals 65 years or older in elderly care, including those who have dementia. As people with dementia have difficulties answering the questionnaires by themselves, the quality of their answers has been put into question. Many of their answers are in fact given by relatives.
As people live longer the number of people with dementia is increasing. In our attempts to find a solution to better accommodate people with dementia, we ended up making a shorter questionnaire with as simply formulated questions as possible. We assigned scientists within elderly research, to test the shorter questionnaires on people 65 years or older who have home care and those who live in special housing.
The results of the test showed that the people with dementia were unable to answer these shorter and simpler questionnaires themselves. The research concluded that cognitive ability is crucial to being able to answer even shorter and simpler questionnaires.
However, we think it would be more unethical to exclude the individuals, that we, through diagnosis- and medical- registers can identify having dementia, and by doing so not even give them the opportunity to participate. Therefore, we continue to send the questionnaires to all elderly people in elderly care.

The use of proxy respondents in research involving oldest-old: Proxies’ profiles and data quality in SWISS100 study

Dr Daniele Zaccaria (University of Applied Sciences and Arts of Southern Switzerland) - Presenting Author
Professor Stefano Cavalli (University of Applied Sciences and Arts of Southern Switzerland)
Dr Barbara Masotti (University of Applied Sciences and Arts of Southern Switzerland)
Dr Justine Falciola (University of Geneva)
Professor Armin von Gunten (Lausanne University Hospital)
Professor François Hermann (Geneva University Hospitals )
Professor Daniela Jopp (University of Lausanne)

In the field of social sciences, the use of proxy respondents is a common practice in surveys of older people. It is particularly relevant due to the high prevalence of age-related cognitive and physical health limitations, which place a greater burden on study participation. An assumption made by many scholars is that proxy responses are as accurate as self-responses, but several studies demonstrated that various factors could influence the accuracy of proxy interviews (e.g., proxy’s sex, relationship with the older person, type of questions, etc.) To date, there is only little research investigating such effects in surveys with very old individuals.
Against this background, the aim of this paper is to evaluate and discuss the involvement of proxy respondents in the SWISS100 study, with particular attention to their characteristics and reliability. SWISS100 is a multidisciplinary longitudinal study which started in 2020, with the aim to investigate vulnerability and resilience among a sample of Swiss centenarians and their proxies. Due to Covid-19 restrictions, in 2021 we conducted a phone data collection.
We collected 176 interviews. Specifically, 96 directly through centenarians (mean age=101.53), and the remaining, when centenarians were not able to take part in the interview, through proxy respondents (mean age= 69.64). We also recruited 27 proxy respondents who complemented centenarians’ answers, constituting a small sub-sample of dyadic interviews.
We will use descriptive statistics to analyse proxy respondents’ characteristics and then multivariate analysis to evaluate their association with typical indicators of data quality (e.g., item non-response, missing values, straightlining). Using the sub-sample of dyadic interviews, we will also assess the reliability of proxy respondents by comparing their answers to those of centenarians through percentage agreement and Kappa statistics. The implication of research findings on survey practice will be discussed.

Addressing answer consistency of residents in retirement homes: experiences from a mixed-methods study

Dr Marie-Kristin Döbler (FAU Erlangen-Nürnberg) - Presenting Author
Dr Katrin Drasch (FAU Erlangen-Nürnberg)

This presentation is based on the mixed-methods project “Quality of life in retirement homes”. that took part between 2017-2019 in 11 different retirement homes where we conducted 128 interviews with residents (age-range 50-92). A personal questionnaire was developed addressing central aspects of the quality of life and theoretically capturing Goffman’s concept of total institutions (Goffman 1961). We followed general guidelines for questioning elderly. Predominantly prospective questions and less retrospective and attitude questions were asked and the possibly diminishing cognitive abilities of the respondents were considered. Interviewers were instructed to conduct the interview in a flexible manner in line with semi-structured interviewing. The questionnaire was designed in the following manner: different aspects of quality of life were addressed with Likert scale items (often only containing three categories: yes, probably, and no) and other closed questions before asking an open-ended narrative question on the same topic in a qualitative manner. We also included several questions designed to estimate the respondent’s cognitive capacities by using an adapted version of the Global Deterioration Scale GDS (Reisberg et al. 1981) rated afterwards through the interviewer.
Our experiences show that it is in general possible to question retirement home residents with limited cognitive abilities. However, our experience shows that the interview times clearly exceeded planned times and that interviewers require specific training for the contact with the elderly covering information about dementia and strategies to deal with difficult situations. By comparing qualitative and quantitative answers we can address answer consistency. We compare the answers from the standardized questionnaire with transcripts of the narrative questions. We categorize them whether the answers were congruent, indifferent, or contradictory and estimate measures of concordance. We can show that cognitive abilities are negatively correlated with answer consistency of information on the same topic.