Hoffman et al., 2011. On the confounds among retest gains and age-cohort differences in the estimation of within-person change in longitudinal studies: a simulation study


Although longitudinal designs are the only way in which age changes can be directly observed, a recurrent criticism involves to what extent retest effects may downwardly bias estimates of true age-related cognitive change. Considerable attention has been given to the problem of retest effects within mixed effects models that include separate parameters for longitudinal change over time (usually specified as a function of age) and for the impact of retest (specified as a function of number of exposures). Because time (i.e., intervals between assessment) and number of exposures are highly correlated (and are perfectly correlated in equal interval designs) in most longitudinal studies, the separation of effects of within-person change from effects of retest gains is only possible given certain assumptions (e.g., age convergence). To the extent that cross-sectional and longitudinal effects of age differ, obtained estimates of aging and retest may not be informative. The current simulation study investigated the recovery of within-person change (i.e., aging) and retest effects from repeated cognitive testing as a function of number of waves, age range at baseline, and size and direction of age-cohort differences on the intercept and age slope in age-based models of change. Significant bias and Type I error rates in the estimated effects of retest were observed when these convergence assumptions were not met. These simulation results suggest that retest effects may not be distinguishable from effects of aging-related change and age-cohort differences in typical long-term traditional longitudinal designs.