Wisconsin Residents are Helping to Identify Risk Factors for Changes in Hearing in an Aging Population

Through the Epidemiology of Hearing Loss Study (EHLS) and the Beaver Dam Offspring Study (BOSS), Wisconsin residents are helping to identify risk factors for changes in hearing in an aging population.

The fact that over 31 million Americans suffer from hearing loss is no surprise to EHLS and BOSS researchers. It is, however, a challenge, and represents the need for new approaches to address it. The Beaver Dam Offspring Study is a longitudinal study to determine how common age-related hearing loss, eye disease, and other conditions are in the adult children of participants in the population-based Epidemiology of Hearing Loss Study (1993-present). The BOSS study allows scientists to evaluate genetic- and environmental-risk factors for sensory impairments (hearing, vision, sense of smell) and aspects of cardiovascular health and how they differ between people born pre- and post-World War II. This information is used to help predict future health care needs in the United States, as evidenced by a current Institute of Medicine committee on Accessible and Affordable Hearing Health Care for Adults, which looks as these types of studies for evidence about the pubic health burden of hearing loss.

Results from the EHLS and BOSS have identified several risk factors for hearing loss. Dr. Mary Fischer, a co-investigator on the studies, recently reported that atherosclerosis was associated with an increased risk of developing a hearing loss (www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25555266). Dr. Cruickshanks, the Principal Investigator of the study, said, “These results are exciting because they suggest that it may be possible to slow or prevent the changes in hearing with aging.”

Why Beaver Dam?

Many factors contributed to the decision to choose Beaver Dam as the site of the studies. The community is an ideal size to provide the right number of study participants for evaluation and is representative of other communities this size in age, economic status, and occupation. In addition, there has been on-going support of these studies by community leaders, civic groups, and the local medical care providers.

The Epidemiology of Hearing Loss Study and the Beaver Dam Offspring Study are conducted by large research teams including epidemiologists Dayna Dalton, MS; Carla Schubert, MS; and Adam Paulsen, MS; who are alumni of the PHS graduate programs. The large size of the EHLS study makes it particularly robust, and appreciating the importance of the longitudinal design underscores the importance of returning participants. “Participating in our study is important, but having people who continue to participate has been the key to all that we currently know about hearing loss,” said Ms. Dalton. Clearly, many people are involved in making this research happen, but none are more important than the participants themselves.

Madison-Based BOSS Researchers: Adam Paulsen, Mary Fischer, Carla Schubert, Dayna Dalton

For additional information on the EHLS and BOSS studies, please see: http://boss.pophealth.wisc.edu/

To read more about the IOM study: here