The Health and Retirement Study Harmonized Cognitive Assessment Protocol Project: Study Design and Methods

Introduction: The Harmonized Cognitive Assessment Protocol (HCAP) Project is a substudy within the Health and Retirement Study (HRS), an ongoing nationally representative panel study of about 20,000 adults aged 51 or older in the United States. The HCAP is part of an international research collaboration funded by the National Institute on Aging to better measure and identify cognitive impairment and dementia in representative population-based samples of older adults, in the context of ongoing longitudinal studies of aging in high-, middle-, and low-income countries around the world.

Methods: The HCAP cognitive test battery was designed to measure a range of key cognitive domains affected by cognitive aging (including attention, memory, executive function, language, and visuospatial function) and to allow harmonization and comparisons to other studies in the United States and around the world. The HCAP included a pair of in-person interviews, one with the target HRS respondent (a randomly selected HRS sample member, aged 65+) that lasted approximately 1 h and one with an informant nominated by the respondent that lasted approximately 20 min. The final HRS HCAP sample included 3,496 study subjects, representing a 79% response rate among those invited to participate.

Conclusion: Linking detailed HCAP cognitive assessments to the wealth of available longitudinal HRS data on cognition, health, biomarkers, genetics, health care utilization, informal care, and economic resources and behavior will provide unique and expanded opportunities to study cognitive impairment and dementia in a nationally representative US population-based sample. The fielding of similar HCAP projects in multiple countries around the world will provide additional opportunities to study international differences in the prevalence, incidence, and outcomes of dementia globally with comparable data. Like all HRS data, HCAP data are publicly available at no cost to researchers.