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Background and Overview

Purpose of the Study

By 2030, the population of Americans age 65 and older is projected to reach over 70 million. People are living longer and healthier lives but, as an Institute of Medicine panel warned in a 2007 report, the "future of disability in America will depend on how this country prepares for and manages a complex array of demographic, fiscal, medical, technological, and other developments that will unfold in the next several decades." NHATS was initiated in recognition of the shifting landscape of late-life and the need for a database to support the scientific study of how daily life changes as we age. Designed by an interdisciplinary team of researchers, NHATS is intended as the primary platform for scientific inquiry to guide efforts to reduce disability, maximize functioning, and enhance the quality of life of older Americans. back to top


NHATS is funded by the National Institute on Aging (NIA), which is part of the National Institutes of Health. back to top

Study Aims

NHATS has two primary scientific aims

  • To promote scientific study of late-life disability trends and dynamics; and
  • To advance our understanding of the social and economic impact of late-life functional changes for older people, their families, and society.

Questions that NHATS is being designed to answer include

  • Are trends in late-life functioning and disability changing over time, and are these patterns the same for everyone or do they differ by education, income, race, or ethnic background?
  • How do medical care, where people live, and other personal characteristics affect people's ability to do everyday tasks and activities they care about, and will this change over time?
  • Why do some people develop a disability while others do not, and why do some develop a disability earlier and others later?
  • What changes do people make in their living arrangements, their home environments, and the ways they do everyday activities in response to changes in late-life functioning?
  • How does disability affect older people and their families financially and what is the role of society in responding to needs related to disability?
  • Which public and private strategies promote independent living and quality of life at older ages?

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Development of NHATS

NHATS is being developed by researchers on aging from many scientific disciplines to ensure that the data collected will have the widest possible use. The NHATS team includes researchers trained in demography, geriatric medicine, epidemiology, health services research, economics, and gerontology. Starting in late 2008, the NHATS team has developed and tested questions about daily activities, well-being, health conditions and health care, income, and other topics that are needed to answer the scientific aims and research questions that are the focus of NHATS. back to top

Design Overview

NHATS participants are drawn from the list of all Medicare enrollees in the U.S. who are age 65 or older. Scientific sampling methods were used to select a sample of enrollees who will represent all other Medicare beneficiaries. Persons were selected from all age groups from the youngest (65 to 69) to the oldest (90 or older). About 9,000 people will participate in the first wave of NHATS in summer 2011. In order to study trends and changes in late-life functioning, NHATS was designed as a longitudinal study. Participants will be interviewed every year. back to top

Conducting NHATS

The first wave of NHATS will consist of an interview conducted in the study participant's home that involves answering questions and doing simple activities such as walking and standing. Interviews will be conducted by professionally trained interviewers from Westat. Westat is a research survey firm, based in Rockville, Maryland, that conducts some of the largest health surveys in the United States. Westat is conducting the interview for the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, which has lead responsibility for NHATS. back to top