Objective: To describe a cohort study of women receiving a series of comprehensive health examinations over 32 years.
Design: Longitudinal population study based on a randomised sample of the female population from defined age cohorts.
Setting: City of Göteborg, Sweden.
Subjects: Subjects were 38, 46, 50, 54 or 60 years old at the start of the study in 1968. Re-examinations were performed in 1974, 1982 and 1992. Non-participants in the most recent examination, initiated in 2000, were offered home visits.
Main outcome measures: Participation, anthropometric and blood pressure changes.
Results: At the end of the 32-year follow-up, 64% of the original participants were alive, and low participation among survivors was a problem. An acceptable participation rate (71% of those alive) was obtained after home visits were offered. Surviving non-participants already had elevated cardiovascular risk factors at onset of the study in 1968, along with lower educational level and lower socioeconomic status. Home visited subjects were similar to non-participants with regard to anthropometry and blood pressure, but did not differ from participants with regard to social indicators. Thirty-two-year longitudinal data demonstrate clear ageing effects for several important variables, which should, however, be considered in the context of documented differences with non-participants at the baseline examination.
Conclusions: Longitudinal studies in elderly populations provide important data on changes during the ageing process. However, participation rates decline for a number of reasons and generalisations should be made with care. Moreover, including home visits in the protocol can both increase participation and reduce participation bias in elderly cohorts.