Epidemiological Studies Endure

Karen Cruickshanks, PhD

Watch the Fall 2016 Eyes, Ears and Aging Saving Sight Session video featuring Dr. Cruickshanks.

2016 marked the 23rd and 12th years, respectively of the Epidemiology of Hearing Loss Study (EHLS) and the Beaver Dam Offspring Study (BOSS), both ongoing longitudinal, cohort studies conducted in the city of Beaver Dam, Wisconsin. The BOSS participants are the adult offspring of the EHLS participants. Findings from these two studies are used to determine possible risk factors and interventions for age-related sensory disorders and to help predict future healthcare needs in the United States.The BOSS measures vision and obtains ocular images, and both EHLS and BOSS measure hearing, olfaction, cognition, and cardiovascular health in study participants every 5 years. TheBOSS is currently in its ten year follow-up examination phase and the EHLS recently concluded its twenty-one year examination phase. Examining multiple senses and numerous aspects of health in families and multiple generations allows for a more integrated and complete view of sensory health and aging. It also allows us to determine if the risk of sensory decline has changed in more recent generations.The success of BOSS and EHLS stems from the tremendous commitment and support from study participants and the community of Beaver Dam. Their excitement for continuing participation is evidence of the community’s desire to contribute to the health of future generations. The multigenerational aspect of these studies also aids in maintaining participation. The studies are a commonality amongst family members and exams are viewed as an opportunity for familial bonding. Siblings and parents frequently schedule appointments together and exams often serve as an excuse for out-of-town participants to visit family and friends in Beaver Dam. The community’s dedication to EHLS and BOSS is invaluable and serves to strengthen our overall results.Participants in BOSS and EHLS have helped us learn many things about age-related sensory disorders. One of our most exciting findings is the possible connection between vascular health and sensory health. Ultrasound scans of the carotid arteries are obtained during study exams.Detailed images of the arteries are captured and arterial wall thickness and plaque are graded to determine the presence of subclinical atherosclerosis. We have found that subclinical atherosclerosis is associated with an increased risk of hearing impairment, age-related macular degeneration, decline in olfactory (smell) function, and cognitive decline. These findings suggest that some age-related decline in sensory health and cognitive health may be preventable by taking steps to improve cardiovascular health.As our country’s population continues to age, the desire to age healthily will persist.Community partnerships with epidemiological studies of aging, like that of Beaver Dam withEHLS and BOSS, will continue to provide much needed data to improve the likelihood of healthy aging.

Want more information? Watch the Fall 2016 Eyes, Ears and Aging Saving Sight Session video featuring Dr. Cruickshanks.

WIMR Epidemiology Cruickshanks Ophthalmology Oct. 12, 2016. (Photo © Andy Manis)
Karen Cruickshanks’ Lab Team