Background: Most questionnaires used for physical activity (PA) surveillance have been developed for adults aged </=65 years. Given the health benefits of PA for older adults and the aging of the population, it is important to include adults aged 65+ years in PA surveillance. However, few studies have examined how well older adults understand PA surveillance questionnaires. This study aimed to document older adults' understanding of questions from the International PA Questionnaire (IPAQ), which is used worldwide for PA surveillance.
Methods: Participants were 41 community-dwelling adults aged 65-89 years. They each completed IPAQ in a face-to-face semi-structured interview, using the "think-aloud" method, in which they expressed their thoughts out loud as they answered IPAQ questions. Interviews were transcribed and coded according to a three-stage model: understanding the intent of the question; performing the primary task (conducting the mental operations required to formulate a response); and response formatting (mapping the response into pre-specified response options).
Results: Most difficulties occurred during the understanding and performing the primary task stages. Errors included recalling PA in an "average" week, not in the previous 7 days; including PA lasting <10 minutes/session; reporting the same PA twice or thrice; and including the total time of an activity for which only a part of that time was at the intensity specified in the question. Participants were unclear what activities fitted within a question's scope and used a variety of strategies for determining the frequency and duration of their activities. Participants experienced more difficulties with the moderate-intensity PA and walking questions than with the vigorous-intensity PA questions. The sitting time question, particularly difficult for many participants, required the use of an answer strategy different from that used to answer questions about PA.
Conclusions: These findings indicate a need for caution in administering IPAQ to adults aged >/=65 years. Most errors resulted in over-reporting, although errors resulting in under-reporting were also noted. Given the nature of the errors made by participants, it is possible that similar errors occur when IPAQ is used in younger populations and that the errors identified could be minimized with small modifications to IPAQ.