The Connection Between Hearing Loss and Dementia

Hearing loss and dementia seem unrelated to the majority of us. Aside from the fact that they both accompany aging, one has to do with one’s ears, and the other has to do with one’s brain.

However, multiple studies have shown they are actually closely related. In the latest study from researchers at the University of Wisconsin, cognitively healthy adults in their fifties and sixties who had been diagnosed with hearing loss were shown to face double the risk of developing dementia within five years.

Other studies have shown that risk of dementia increases as hearing loss increases. According to a study by a researcher at Johns Hopkins, mild, moderate, and severe hearing loss made the odds of dementia two, three, and five times higher in the next decade or more, respectively. What’s more, cognitive impairment seems to occur faster in those who have hearing loss. Older adults with hearing loss experienced mental decline an average of 30-40 percent faster.

This correlation affects many of us. Hearing loss is a common ailment in late middle age. At age 65, about one in three adults experiences hearing loss. For adults over 70, two in three have some degree of hearing loss. Dementia is slightly less common, but still prevalent — about one in three Americans will die with some form of dementia.

Why is this the case? We don’t yet know. One possibility is that a brain pathology we’re not aware of is responsible for both symptoms. Another potential reason is that hearing loss causes social isolation. When individuals are no longer able to interact with their surroundings as much as they used to, their brains deteriorate. A third theory is that because hearing is responsible for a fair amount of brain stimulation, the loss of hearing stimuli leads the brain’s functioning to weaken overall. It’s also possible that having to decode noise continually puts too much strain on the mind, leaving it weak and vulnerable to degeneration.

Protect your hearing early in life by limiting your exposure to loud noise. At 90 decibels of uninterrupted sound, the limit of safe noise exposure is eight hours. For each six decibels increase of uninterrupted sound thereafter, the limit of safe exposure is reduced by half.

Also, be on the lookout for symptoms such as excessive ear wax, repeated ear infection, pain, itching, ringing or sudden hearing loss. If you have any of these symptoms, see an otolaryngologist as soon as possible. Ear damage can worsen over time when the issue causing it remains unresolved.

If you already have hearing loss, speak with your otolaryngologist to see what treatment is ideal for your situation. Don’t put off buying a hearing aid if it means you can’t follow along with your friends’ and family’s conversations. Stay social and keep your brain engaged. Additionally, follow a healthy diet and exercise program — the healthier you are overall, the healthier your mind is likely to be.


What causes smell loss?

Smell loss or anosmia can be due to many varied causes, such as acute head trauma, a severe cold, chronic sinusitis, nasal polyps, neurological conditions, and rarely tumors.   An important distinguishing factor is the acuity of onset. Acute smell loss can be due to a severe upper respiratory infection or head trauma. Viruses can cause cell death of the olfactory neurons, and head trauma can shear off the olfactory nerves. Both have the potential for recovery, as olfactory nerves can regenerate, though it can take years.

Brain tumors of the olfactory groove (or anterior base of skull) can cause a gradual smell loss. These can include esthesioneuroblastoma or meningiomas – treatment would be surgical resection.

A common cause of chronic smell loss is chronic sinusitis, which through inflammation can cause swelling of the sinus mucosa, and will block the path of odor molecules to the olfactory groove. Fortunately a combination of nasal topical steroids, prednisone and surgery may be able to improve smell.

Chronic sinusitis with polyps is chronic sinusitis with more inflammation where the normal lining of the sinuses, the mucosa, becomes swollen and edematous forming small grape-like polyps. These physically block the passage of smell molecules. Surgery can help with this.

There is some data out of Stanford showing that olfactory retraining is a beneficial therapeutic option for patients with smell loss. This is a simple, cheap treatment option for patients with smell loss that Dr. Meier offers.


Josh Meier, M.D. F.A.R.S.


New Cone Beam CT Scanner at Nevada ENT

Nevada ENT and Reno Tahoe Sinus Center are excited to announce that we have just completed installation of a brand new Carestream CS 9300 cone beam CT scanner. Our office has offered in-office CT imaging for the last 7 years, and we recently decided to upgrade to the latest technology. We can image both the paranasal sinuses and temporal bone (ear).

Your doctor will review your images with you immediately after the scan. In addition, the board-certified radiologists at Reno Diagnostic Center will review your scan and send a report to our office.

Advantages of in-office cone beam CT imaging:

  • High resolution, down to 0.09mm, for excellent imaging detail
  • CBCT radiation dose is much lower than low-dose and standard conventional CT exams (approximately 1/10 of the dose)
  • Convenience – imaging can be done in our office without a second trip to an imaging center
  • Images can be used for image-guided sinus surgery

We are pleased to offer this new technology to our patients, please do not hesitate to ask your provider for more information.


Josh Meier, M.D. F.A.R.S.

Update on Chronic Sinusitis

Chronic rhinosinusitis (CRS) is a condition that a large segment of the population suffers from, with a significant decrement in quality of life. Symptoms of CRS include nasal drainage, congestion, facial pain or pressure, and smell loss. Frequently nasal allergies can contribute to symptoms. In Reno, the bulk of allergy symptoms occur in the fall, when the sagebrush and rabbit brush bloom.

The first line of treatment for CRS is a saline rinse (Neilmed sinus rinse) and an over the counter topical steroid spray (Flonase, Nasocort). For most CRS patients, this will lead to a significant increase in quality of life.   For patients that do not improve, then a consultation with an otolaryngologist can be helpful, and other treatment options can be discussed.

An option for patients that continue to have symptoms, despite appropriate medical therapy, is endoscopic sinus surgery (ESS). New technology and techniques have resulted in much less discomfort and recovery after ESS. Because of my focus on mucosal preservation, there is less bleeding; as a result I do not use nasal packing or splints for patients that undergo nasal surgery.

If you have any questions about your nose or sinus health, please do not hesitate to call and schedule an appointment.

Josh Meier, M.D. F.A.R.S.


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