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PHS Beaver Dam study led by Professor Karen Cruickshanks featured in the Wisconsin State Journal

An Eye with Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD)

Beaver Dam Study Findings Reveal Baby Boomers have 60% Lower Risk of AMD

Baby boomers have a 60 percent lower risk of developing age-related macular degeneration (AMD) than the previous generation, and that generation (born from 1925 to 1945) also had a 60 percent lower risk of developing the condition than the generation before it.

This could be related to improvements in sanitation, the environment, food quality and medical care over the last century:
“It may have something to do with the cumulative impact of a lot of gains in health care, in terms of preventing and treating childhood infections, and improved maternal and child health,” said Karen Cruickshanks, UW-Madison epidemiologist who led the study, published Thursday in the journal JAMA Ophthalmology.

Macular degeneration is linked to inflammation, the body’s response to stimuli such as infections. Reduced inflammation could contribute to their decline, said Cruickshanks.

Smoking is a considerable risk factor for macular degeneration, but minimal correlation with the drop in smoking rates in recent decades was found by the study. However, whatever the reasons for the decline in macular degeneration, the reduction is too dramatic to be explained by genetic changes alone.

“You don’t see these large declines unless it’s attributable to some modifiable risk factor,” Cruickshanks explained. “There’s some other things we need to learn about what causes (macular degeneration) that might be things we could prevent.”

Three decades ago, UW-Madison researchers started studying eye health in people ages 43 to 84 in Beaver Dam, a community with demographics resembling that of the country and residents willing to participate.
The researchers have made follow-up visits every five years. In 2005, they added offspring aged 21 to 84, allowing for comparisons among several generations.

In the latest exams from 2010 to 2013, 1.0 percent of baby boomers, born from 1946 to 1964, had macular degeneration, many of them with early stages of the disease.
That compares to 3.0 percent for the pre-World War II generation and 8.8 percent for the generation born from 1901 to 1924.
Adjusting for age, gender and other factors, the decline is more than 60 percent between each generation.

The study also found that only 0.3 percent of people in Generation X, born from 1965 to 1984, had macular degeneration, an additional 60 percent decline from baby boomers.

Generation X may be too young for signs of the disease to appear, however, so findings need to be confirmed with follow-up studies.
Overall, 4.2 percent of the 4,819 people in the study had macular degeneration, with the rate ranging from 1.0 percent among people in their 40s to 19.6 percent among those in their 80s.

With baby boomers entering their 60s and 70s, when macular degeneration is most likely to begin, it looks like the disease will be a problem for some, but not as many as expected.

An Eye Test Being Conducted

Published in the Wisconsin State Journal Online November 16, 2017. Link for full article: