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Swenor Research Group

Overview

The Swenor Research Group focuses on examining the interrelationship between vision loss and aging. This includes determining the effects of visual impairment and eye disease on physical and cognitive functioning in older adults, and identifying interventions that could enhance the health of older adults with visual impairment and eye disease. 

framework
Figure: Research Framework
 

Our work is guided by an overarching research framework (Figure) that integrates concepts and terminology from both ophthalmology and geriatrics. Under this framework, visual impairment leads to downstream changes in functioning – physical, cognitive, and social/psychological functioning – that in turn lead to negative health outcomes associated with accelerated aging – including frailty, comorbidity, and increased risk of mortality. This framework also acknowledges the complexity of these relationships, as there are common causes or risk factors that may contribute to functioning decrements and negative health consequences among older adults with visual impairments. To achieve our goals, we rely on a highly collaborative approach working with investigators across multiple departments, The Dana Center for Preventive Ophthalmology and the Johns Hopkins Center on Aging and Health.

Our Research Areas

Cognitive Functioning

Prior research has indicated that visually impaired older adults are more likely to have cognitive impairment than those with normal vision. However, the mechanisms underlying this relationship are not fully understood, limiting our ability to mitigate the cognitive consequences of vision loss. Our research aims to enhance our understanding of the vision-cognitive relationship by leveraging longitudinal studies, as well as neuroimaging data to investigate how brain structure and function may change in older adults with age-related eye disease.

Related Publications


Physical Functioning

Mobility and physical functioning are important aspects of good health in late life. However, maintaining mobility and keeping physically active usually requires good vision. Results from our work have identified vision loss as an important factor contributing to walking difficulties and mobility disability in late life, and highlight the need to address the physical consequences of vision loss in older adults.

Related Publications


Reading

Reading difficulty is a common complaint among individuals with visual impairments resulting from age-related macular degeneration and glaucoma. Working with Dr. Pradeep Ramulu, our studies have assessed sustained reading speed, a measure of reading difficulty, as well as examined the role of comprehension and cognitive function on sustained reading speeds in visually impaired older adults.

Related Publications


Frailty

Frailty is a geriatric syndrome defined as a vulnerability to negative health outcomes, and is thought to result from dysregulation across multiple physiological systems. Assessing frailty in older adults can help identify individuals at risk of falls, hospitalization, worsening disability, and mortality. Our research is examining the relationship between visual impairment and frailty, and aims to determine if visually impaired older adults are at increased risk of developing frailty, as well as determine if being both visually impaired and frail puts older adults at greater risk of negative health outcomes.


Dual Sensory Impairment

Our group is examining how dual sensory impairment – defined as concurrent vision and hearing impairments – affects health and aging. This research is a joint collaboration with investigators at the Johns Hopkins Cochlear Center for Hearing and Public Health.

Related Publications


Access to Care

Access to health care is an important component of aging well. Our research aims to characterize and ultimately reduce disparities in eye care and healthcare for individuals with visual impairments. This includes collaborating with researchers at the Lions Low Vision Research and Rehabilitation Center at the Wilmer Eye Institute to examine utilization of low vision rehabilitation services, which are critical to maintaining or enhancing the functioning of individuals with chronic visual impairment.

Related Publications


Ongoing Studies

Sense Matters

The SENSE Matters study aims to understand across-study variation in methods used to collect and analyze cognitive data in older adults with hearing or vision impairment. Eligible, longitudinal cohort studies will be systematically identified from a literature review and methods of collecting and analyzing cognitive data among older adults will be compared using responses to surveys sent to each cohort study. Ultimately, this study seeks to pioneer the development of standardized methods to collect cognitive data in older adults with sensory impairment. The SENSE Matters study is funded by National Institute on Aging grant R21AG060243.

Learn more about SENSE Matters.
To learn about the ongoing study, contact Emily Pedersen, SENSE Matters study coordinator.


In the News

High Sights for Low Vision - Hopkins Medicine (Winter 2019)
Exploring links between senses and cognitive health - Science Daily (Sept 2018)
Study suggests maintaining good vision may stave off cognitive decline - National Eye Institute (Sept 2018)


Our Team

Principal Investigator

Photo of Dr. Bonnielin Swenor, M.P.H., Ph.D.

Swenor, Bonnielin, M.P.H., Ph.D.

Associate Professor of Ophthalmology
Core Faculty Member at the Johns Hopkins University Center on Aging and Health
Expertise, Disease and Conditions: Epidemiology, Ophthalmology
Research Interests: Ophthalmology, Visual impairment, Low Vision, Aging, Epidemiology
 

Postdoctoral research fellows

Varshini Varadaraj
Elizabeth Couser

Medical students

Sophie Gu
Moon Jeong Lee
Priyanka Kumar

Master of Public Health Students

Ahmed Shakarchi
Mina Motaghi
Niranjani Nagarajan
Yi Sun

Undergraduate Students

Yunmeng Wang
Annie Zhang