Portrait Photograph of Natascha Merten

Natascha Merten


School of Medicine and Public Health l Department of Medicine, Division of Geriatrics and Gerontology

Hometown: Bonn, Germany

Dr. Natascha Merten is a Scientist in the Okonkwo Lab within the Division of Geriatrics and Gerontology and an Honorary Affiliate in the Department of Population Health Sciences. Dr. Merten is also the Director of the EpiSense Program within the Department of Population Health Sciences. As a psychologist (MS) and aging epidemiologist (PhD) by training Dr. Merten’s research focuses on human brain aging. She aims to assess aging with a holistic approach through investigating general aging processes that affect multiple domains of brain aging focusing on sensory and cognitive aging and dementia. Understanding shared etiological pathways and identifying common modifiable risk factors has the potential to improve prevention and treatment strategies for a wide range of age-related diseases.

Dr. Merten can also present in German. Prefers to give in-person talks only.


Mental Health Among Individuals with Sensory Impairment 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. While studies have found increased psychological distress, depression and loneliness during lockdown phases, it remained unclear whether lockdown measures may affect individuals with disabilities more strongly than others. Dr. Merten will present results of a very timely investigation of mental health among hearing and/or vision-impaired individuals during the COVID-19 pandemic using data of the Survey of the Health of Wisconsin (SHOW)

Retinal Nerve Cell Layers as Markers of Sensory and Neurocognitive Function

In the search for early biomarkers of neurodegeneration and dementia, we lack less invasive and cost-effective screening tools. While we can measure the nerve cell thickness in the eye reliably, non-invasively and cost and time-effective, it remained unclear if the nerve cells in the eye could also tell us something about the general constitution of the overall nervous system of a person. Utilizing results from the Beaver Dam Offspring Study, Dr. Merten will present how retinal nerve cells are associated with sensory and neurocognitive function.