Texas Aging and Longevity Center

Survey Research: Questionnaires & Surveys

Questionnaire design with older adults needs to take into account physiological changes in vision, as well as cohort differences in level of education and familiarity with technologies.

Font

  • Vision changes with age. By midlife, most adults have some difficulty focusing in near distance vision. This makes reading more difficult with age. When it comes to font, bigger is better.

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Education and Question Format

  • Rates of education have risen over the past few decades.
  • As such, in the US and around the world, today’s young adults tend to be more well-educated than are today’s older adults.
  • You cannot use surveys written for and tested on college students.
  • Write questions at the 6th grade reading level or below to capture much of the older adult population.

                                       

 


Source: Pew Research Centertabulations of the 1965, 1985, 2001 and 2017 Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplement (ASEC) from the Integrated Public Use Microdata Series (IPUMS). From “How Millennials Today Compare with Their Grandparents 50 Years Ago”, PEW RESEARCH CENTER. Retrieved from: http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/03/16/how-millennials-compare-with-their-grandparents/

Questionnaires Validated for use with Older Adults

  • Check to assure that questionnaires have been pretested and used with adults over the age of 65.
  • It is best practice to use measures that have been validated in other studies with older adults.
  • National Archive of Computerized Data on Aging at the University of Michigan has data and information from hundreds of studies of older adults. 
  • A few places to look for measures:
    • The Health and Retirement Survey (HRS) is a longitudinal study including over 20,000 older adults that has been ongoing since 1990. This study includes measures of health and physical functioning as well as economic indicators that are considered the gold standard in the field.
    • The National Social Life Health and Aging Project (NSHAP) examined a national sample of older adults in 2005-2006 and again in 2010-2011. This study included measures of sexuality, social life and health.
    • The Midlife in the United States (MIDUS) study began in 1995 with a sample of approximately 5,000 adults aged 25 to 75 year olds. MIDUS included diary data as well as survey measures of personality, health, and well-being LINK HERE.
    • The Family Exchanges Study included in-depth assessments of 600 3-generation families with 2,000+ individuals. Participants completed surveys in 2008 and again in 2013 with diary data and salivary samples.
    • If NACDA does not have a study for a construct you wish to measure, you should do a pretest and pilot study of your new measure with older adults (not college students).

Web-based Research

  • Older adults’ use of technology has increased in recent years. However, a large proportion of older adults remain unfamiliar with computer technologies and the internet.
  • Do not assume that all participants will have access to computer, wifi and/or internet in their home.
  • Be sure to provide training in completion of web-based surveys.

 


Source: Survey conducted Sept. 29 – Nov. 6, 2016 “Tech Adoption Climbs Among Older Adults”, PEW RESEARCH CENTER. Retrieved from http://www.pewinternet.org/2017/05/17/tech-adoption-climbs-among-older-adults/
  • If you are doing web-based research, keep the questions limited to what fits on the screen and then go to the next screen.
  • Use a sufficiently large font.
  • Avoid making participants scroll down.
  • You may be limited to one or two questions per page with a next button at the bottom. Here is an example: 

 


Source: https://www.jmir.org/2012/1/e37/
  • You will get a better response rate with the option of “I don’t know” or some means of skipping questions.
  • Older adults’ experiences are complex and may not fit the response options for some questions.

Handheld Devices and Sensors

  • Older adults are much less familiar with handheld devices such as smart phones or iPod touch than are young adults. You will need to provide training with Handheld devices.
  • The font on the survey will need to be sufficiently large for older adults to read the questions. If you are using commercial software packages to do the surveys, you may have to work with the company to find a way to increase the font. You may have to make scale options briefer.

 


Source: Survey conducted Oct.13 – Nov. 15, 2015. “Tech Adoption Climbs Among Older Adults”, PEW RESEARCH CENTER. Retrieved from http://www.pewinternet.org/2017/05/17/tech-adoption-climbs-among-older-adults/
  • Rates of arthritis increase with age.
  • Many older adults find using the touch screen uncomfortable, so it is worth investing in styluses if you use handheld devices for your surveys. 

 


Source: Brennan-Olsen, S. L., Cook, S., Leech, M. T., Bowe, S. J., Kowal, P., Naidoo, N., … & Mohebbi, M. (2017). Prevalence of arthritis according to age, sex and socioeconomic status in six low and middle income countries: analysis of data from the World Health Organization study on global AGEing and adult health (SAGE) Wave 1. BMC musculoskeletal disorders18(1), 271. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5479046/ 
  • For repeated surveys throughout the day, response burden for younger adults does not translate into response burden for older adults.
  • Older adults may tire more rapidly.
  • Consider that circadian rhythms and sleep are highly variable in late life and you will need to tailor the survey times for each individual.
  • Older adults also may have skin sensitivities and other physical issues that require thought and problem solving to adapt to if using sensors or other devices to track physical reactions.

 Thanks to author Dr. Karen L. Fingerman


1. Anderson, M., & Perrin, A (May, 2017). Technology use among older adults climbs. Pew Research Center. http://www.pewinternet.org/2017/05/17/technology-use-among-seniors/
2. Brennan-Olsen, S. L., Cook, S., Leech, M. T., Bowe, S. J., Kowal, P., Naidoo, N., … & Mohebbi, M. (2017). Prevalence of arthritis according to age, sex and socioeconomic status in six low and middle income countries: analysis of data from the World Health Organization study on global AGEing and adult health (SAGE) Wave 1. BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders, 18, 1–12. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5479046/
3. Fry, R., Igielnik, R., & Patten, E. (March, 2018). How Millennials Today Compare with Their Grandparents 50 Years Ago. Pew Research Center. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/03/16/how-millennials-compare-with-their-grandparents/
4. Vandelanotte, C., Duncan, M. J., Plotnikoff, R. C., & Mummery, W. K. (2012). Do participants’ preferences for mode of delivery (text, video, or both) influence the effectiveness of a web-based physical activity intervention?. Journal of medical Internet research14(1). Retrieved from https://www.jmir.org/2012/1/e37/