European Journal of Epidemiology

, Volume 20, Issue 8, pp 657–662 | Cite as

Methods to Account for Attrition in Longitudinal Data: Do They Work? A Simulation Study

  • Vicki L. Kristman
  • Michael Manno
  • Pierre Côté


Attrition threatens the internal validity of cohort studies. Epidemiologists use various imputation and weighting methods to limit bias due to attrition. However, the ability of these methods to correct for attrition bias has not been tested. We simulated a cohort of 300 subjects using 500 computer replications to determine whether regression imputation, individual weighting, or multiple imputation is useful to reduce attrition bias. We compared these results to a complete subject analysis. Our logistic regression model included a binary exposure and two confounders. We generated 10, 25, and 40% attrition through three missing data mechanisms: missing completely at random (MCAR), missing at random (MAR) and missing not at random (MNAR), and used four covariance matrices to vary attrition. We compared true and estimated mean odds ratios (ORs), standard deviations (SDs), and coverage. With data MCAR and MAR for all attrition rates, the complete subject analysis produced results at least as valid as those from the imputation and weighting methods. With data MNAR, no method provided unbiased estimates of the OR at attrition rates of 25 or 40%. When observations are not MAR or MCAR, imputation and weighting methods may not effectively reduce attrition bias.


Bias (epidemiology) Cohort studies Computer simulation Epidemiologic methods Logistic models 



confidence interval


missing at random


missing completely at random


missing not at random


mild traumatic brain injury


odds ratio


standard deviation


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Copyright information

© Springer 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Vicki L. Kristman
    • 1
    • 3
  • Michael Manno
    • 2
    • 3
  • Pierre Côté
    • 1
    • 3
  1. 1.Institute for Work & HealthTorontoCanada
  2. 2.Samuel Lunenfeld Research InstituteMount Sinai HospitalTorontoCanada
  3. 3.Department of Public Health SciencesUniversity of TorontoTorontoCanada

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