Measurement of Prevalent Versus Incident Dementia Cases in Epidemiologic Studies

Am J Epidemiol. 2023 Apr 6;192(4):520-534. doi: 10.1093/aje/kwac197.


Because dementia is progressive, incident cases are on average milder than prevalent cases, affecting the performance of cognitive tests and questions on functional limitations (i.e., cognition/functional limitation items) used for dementia assessment. Longitudinal studies assess incident cases, while cross-sectional studies assess prevalent cases, but differences are not typically considered when researchers select items to include in studies. We used longitudinal data from the Religious Orders Study and Memory and Aging Project (ROSMAP) (n = 3,446) collected between 1994 and 2021 to characterize differences in associations between items (cognition: 35 items; functional limitations: 14 items) and incident or prevalent dementia using multinomial regression models with generalized estimating equations, controlling for ROSMAP cohort (Religious Orders Study or Memory and Aging Project), age, sex, race, and education. The association between a given item and incident dementia was significantly weaker than the association between the same item and prevalent dementia for 46 of 49 items. However, there was variability, with larger differences for some items, including naming a pencil (prevalence odds ratio = 0.02 (95% confidence interval: 0.02, 0.03); incidence odds ratio = 0.10 (95% confidence interval: 0.06, 0.17); P for difference < 0.001). Important differences exist in the performance of cognition/functional limitation items for measurement of incident versus prevalent dementia. Differences can inform the choice of items for cross-sectional studies of prevalent cases or longitudinal studies of incident cases, leading to reduced misclassification and increased statistical power.

Keywords: aging; cognitive testing; dementia; functional limitations; measurement; study design.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aging / psychology
  • Cognition
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Dementia* / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies