Can home visits help in studying the aging process across diverse populations?

Bringing HANDLS into the home: Health Aging in Neighborhoods of Diversity Across the Lifespan Study (HANDLS)


To help understand the relationship between race, socioeconomic status, and health outcomes, the National Institute on Aging (NIA) established the Health Aging in Neighborhoods of Diversity Across the Lifespan Study (HANDLS). Launched in 2004, HANDLS studies the changes in health over time of 3,720 African American and White adults from 13 neighborhoods in the Baltimore area.

As the study proceeded, however, some participants moved out of the Baltimore area, or experienced physical problems or mental decline. These changes prevented them from visiting the study clinic for follow-up health evaluations.

The potential for loss of valuable information about the aging process due to missed study visits was substantial. In order to continue collecting this valuable data, NIA developed a home visit program administered by Westat.


Westat hired and trained an exam team comprising a nurse practitioner and a psychometrician to perform

  • Biospecimen collection (blood, saliva, urine, toenails, skin swabs)
  • Comprehensive health history and physician exam
  • Cognitive measures
  • Extended audio computer-assisted self-interview (ACASI)
  • Resting EKG

The Westat coordinator traces and recruits participants, schedules visits, manages and communicates study results, and supports the participants and exam team. Each year, the Westat exam team conducts about 50 home visits throughout the U.S.


Participants who are unable to go to the clinic can continue contributing to the study, which gives researchers and policymakers a more comprehensive understanding of the aging process as it relates to race and socioeconomic status.


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