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Hearing and Donuts (Brain and Bagels) Seminar
March 4 @ 8:30 am - 9:30 am
Presenter: Natascha Merten, PhD., Scientist – Okonkwo Lab, Department of Medicine, Division of Geriatrics, University of Wisconsin
Topic: Current COVID-19 Threats and New Biomarkers of Alzheimer’s Disease and Neurodegeneration in Population-Based Research on Sensory Loss
Dr. Merten is a psychologist (MS) and aging epidemiologist (PhD) by training with research interests in sensory and cognitive aging. She aims to assess aging with a holistic approach through investigating general aging and neurodegenerative processes that affect multiple domains of brain aging. In this context, she studies early biomarkers of aging to identify individuals at risk for decline in various health conditions.
Understanding such shared etiological pathways and identifying modifiable risk factors has the potential to improve prevention and treatment strategies for a wide range of age-related diseases. We know that hearing and vision impairment are highly prevalent chronic conditions in older adults. Moreover, studies have shown that sensory and motor changes in aging adults are also associated with cognition and risk factors of neurodegeneration. However, it is not clear yet whether they could be early markers of neurodegeneration and if they are associated with emerging blood-based biomarkers of Alzheimer’s disease and neurodegeneration. Dr. Merten will present some of her recent research from the Beaver Dam Offspring Study (BOSS) on the associations of sensory and motor functions in midlife with longitudinal blood-based biomarker levels of Alzheimer’s disease and neurodegeneration.
Moreover, Dr. Merten will show results of a very timely investigation of mental health among hearing and/or vision-impaired individuals during the COVID-19 pandemic. The SARS-COV-2 pandemic has severely impacted population health around the world and early on in the pandemic, lockdown and social distancing measures were initiated to mitigate disease spread. Studies have found increased psychological distress, depression and loneliness during lockdown phases. Nevertheless, few studies have investigated whether these lockdown measures may have affected individuals with disabilities more strongly than others and whether mental health problems may have been exacerbated by COVID-19-related lockdown measures and limitations of in-person contacts in those with sensory impairments. Using data from the Survey of the Health of Wisconsin (SHOW), Dr. Merten studied whether hearing and/or visual impairment were associated with worse mental health and well-being during a time of lockdown measures in Spring/Summer 2020 in Wisconsin.