Robust Respondents and Lost Limitations: The Implications of Nonrandom Missingness for the Estimation of Health Trajectories

Heide Jackson, Michal Engelman, Karen J Bandeen Roche

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Objective: We offer a strategy for quantifying the impact of mortality and attrition on inferences from later-life health trajectory models. Method: Using latent class growth analysis (LCGA), we identify functional limitation trajectory classes in the Health and Retirement Study. We compare results from complete case and full information maximum likelihood (FIML) analyses, and demonstrate a method for producing upper- and lower-bound estimates of the impact of attrition on results. Results: LCGA inferences vary substantially depending on the handling of missing data. For older adults who die during the follow-up period, the widely used FIML approach may underestimate functional limitations by up to 20%. Discussion: The most commonly used approaches to handling missing data likely underestimate the extent of poor health in aging populations. Although there is no single solution for nonrandom missingness, we show that bounding estimates can help analysts to better characterize patterns of health in later life.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)685-708
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Aging and Health
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1 2019



  • latent class growth analysis
  • longitudinal analysis
  • mortality and attrition bias

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Gerontology
  • Community and Home Care
  • Geriatrics and Gerontology
  • Life-span and Life-course Studies

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