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Epidemiology. 2019 Mar;30(2):291-302. doi: 10.1097/EDE.0000000000000945.

Comparison of Methods for Algorithmic Classification of Dementia Status in the Health and Retirement Study.

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From the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Milken Institute School of Public Health, George Washington University, Washington, DC.
Institute of Social Science Survey, Peking University, Beijing.
Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, University of California, San Francisco, CA.



Dementia ascertainment is time-consuming and costly. Several algorithms use existing data from the US-representative Health and Retirement Study (HRS) to algorithmically identify dementia. However, relative performance of these algorithms remains unknown.


We compared performance across five algorithms (Herzog-Wallace, Langa-Kabeto-Weir, Crimmins, Hurd, Wu) overall and within sociodemographic subgroups in participants in HRS and Wave A of the Aging, Demographics, and Memory Study (ADAMS, 2000-2002), an HRS substudy including in-person dementia ascertainment. We then compared algorithmic performance in an internal (time-split) validation dataset including participants of HRS and ADAMS Waves B, C, and/or D (2002-2009).


In the unweighted training data, sensitivity ranged from 53% to 90%, specificity ranged from 79% to 97%, and overall accuracy ranged from 81% to 87%. Though sensitivity was lower in the unweighted validation data (range: 18%-62%), overall accuracy was similar (range: 79%-88%) due to higher specificities (range: 82%-98%). In analyses weighted to represent the age-eligible US population, accuracy ranged from 91% to 94% in the training data and 87% to 94% in the validation data. Using a 0.5 probability cutoff, Crimmins maximized sensitivity, Herzog-Wallace maximized specificity, and Wu and Hurd maximized accuracy. Accuracy was higher among younger, highly-educated, and non-Hispanic white participants versus their complements in both weighted and unweighted analyses.


Algorithmic diagnoses provide a cost-effective way to conduct dementia research. However, naïve use of existing algorithms in disparities or risk factor research may induce nonconservative bias. Algorithms with more comparable performance across relevant subgroups are needed.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

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