Have you ever taken a course, or attended a lecture, where the content was delivered so quickly or in so complex a fashion that you learned practically nothing? If so, your working memory was most likely overwhelmed past its total capacity.
Working memory and its limits
We all process information in three steps: 1) sensory information is received, where it is 2) either dismissed or temporarily stored in working memory, and finally, 3) either discarded or stored in long-term memory.
The trouble is, there is a limitation to the amount of information your working memory can hold. Think of your working memory as an empty container: you can fill it with water, but after it’s full, additional water just flows out the side.
That’s why, if you’re talking to someone who’s distracted or on their cell phone, your words are just pouring out of their already occupied working memory. So you have to repeat yourself, which they’ll understand only when they clear their cognitive cup, dedicating the mental resources necessary to understand your speech.
The effects of hearing loss on working memory
So what does working memory have to do with hearing loss? When it comes to speech comprehension, almost everything.
If you have hearing loss, specifically high-frequency hearing loss (the most common), you probably have difficulties hearing the higher-pitched consonant sounds of speech. As a result, it’s easy to misinterpret what is said or to miss out on words entirely.
But that’s not all. In addition to not hearing some spoken words, you’re also taxing your working memory as you try to understand speech using additional information like context and visual cues.
This constant processing of incomplete information burdens your working memory beyond its capability. And to complicate matters, as we get older, the volume of our working memory declines, exacerbating the effects.
Working memory and hearing aids
Hearing loss taxes working memory, brings about stress, and impedes communication. But what about hearing aids? Hearing aids are intended to enhance hearing, so theoretically hearing aids should clear up working memory and improve speech comprehension, right?
That’s exactly what Jamie Desjardins, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Speech-Language Pathology Program at The University of Texas at El Paso, was about to find out.
DesJardins studied a group of individuals in their 50s and 60s with bilateral hearing loss who had never worn hearing aids. They took a preliminary cognitive test that measured working memory, attention, and information processing speed, prior to ever putting on a pair of hearing aids.
After using hearing aids for two weeks, the group retook the test. What DesJardins found was that the group participants showed noticeable improvement in their cognitive aptitude, with greater short-term recall and faster processing speed. The hearing aids had expanded their working memory, reduced the quantity of information tangled up in working memory, and helped them accelerate the speed at which they processed information.
The implications of the study are wide ranging. With improved cognitive function, hearing aid users could find improvement in practically every aspect of their lives. Better speech comprehension and memory can improve conversations, strengthen relationships, enhance learning, and stimulate efficiency at work.
This experiment is one that you can test out for yourself. Our hearing aid trial period will permit you to run your own no-risk experiment to find out if you can achieve the same improvements in memory and speech comprehension.
Are you up for the challenge?