Dr. Cruickshanks’ research program is focused on the epidemiology of aging, with an emphasis on sensory and cognitive impairments. Her group is investigating how genetic factors, environmental, lifestyle and biological factors including inflammation and vascular disease contribute to the development of vision, hearing, olfactory and cognitive impairments and disorders.
Her program is based on three major cohort studies:
The Epidemiology of Hearing Loss Study (AG11099) began in 1993. The participants (n=3753) in the population-based Beaver Dam Eye Study were invited to participate in this longitudinal study of hearing. Subsequently the study was expanded to include measures of atherosclerosis, olfaction, and cognitive impairment. This study has documented the high prevalence, incidence and risk of progression of hearing impairment in older adults, the prevalence and incidence of tinnitus, and the prevalence of olfactory impairment. Findings have highlighted the need for hearing health care and identified factors associated with the development of hearing and olfactory impairments. Results have been used to identify potentially modifiable factors, and to transform approaches to changes with aging. While hearing impairment was once thought to be an inevitable part of the aging process, the results of this study show that prevention may be a reasonable goal. The current grant is focused on understanding the roles of inflammatory and vascular changes measured over a 20 year period in the development of sensory and cognitive impairments and to evaluate the impact of medications used to treat inflammation and hyperlipidemia.
In 2004, the Beaver Dam Offspring Study (AG021917) began to study the genetic and environmental factors which contribute to age-related sensory impairments. The adult offspring of the participants in the Epidemiology of Hearing Loss study were invited to participate in the baseline study (n=3285) in 2005-2008. This study is investigating the epidemiology of sensory disorders in middle-aged adults and evaluating whether the prevalence of impairments is changing for more recent generations. The roles of atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease risk factors in early sensory and cognitive changes are being studied. In addition, data from this study and the parents are being analyzed to determine the heritability of these disorders and begin the search for genetic markers of risk.
Dr. Cruickshanks is also PI of the EpiSense Audiometry Reading (EAR) Center for the Hispanic Community Health Study, a multi-center study including hearing testing for 16,000 Latinos. The Hispanic Community Health Study / Study of Latinos (HCHS/SOL) is a multi-center epidemiologic study in Hispanic/Latino populations to determine the role of acculturation in the prevalence and development of disease, and to identify risk factors playing a protective or harmful role in Hispanics/Latinos.