Have you ever taken a class, or went to a lecture, where the information was delivered so rapidly or in so complicated a manner that you learned almost nothing? If yes, your working memory was likely overwhelmed beyond 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 disregarded or temporarily retained in working memory, and last, 3) either disposed of or stored in long-term memory.
The issue is, there is a limit to the volume of information your working memory can hold. Imagine your working memory as an empty glass: you can fill it with water, but once full, additional water just pours out the edge.
That’s why, if you’re speaking to someone who’s preoccupied or on their smartphone, your words are simply flowing out of their already occupied working memory. So you have to repeat yourself, which they’ll understand only when they empty their cognitive cup, devoting the mental resources required to fully understand your speech.
The impact of hearing loss on working memory
So what does working memory have to do with hearing loss? In relation to speech comprehension, almost everything.
If you have hearing loss, in particular high-frequency hearing loss (the most common), you probably have difficulty hearing the higher-pitched consonant sounds of speech. As a result, it’s easy to misunderstand what is said or to miss out on words completely.
But that’s not all. In addition to not hearing some spoken words, you’re also taxing your working memory as you attempt to perceive speech using supplemental information like context and visual cues.
This continual processing of incomplete information burdens your working memory past its capacity. And to make things worse, as we age, the volume of our working memory declines, exacerbating the effects.
Working memory and hearing aids
Hearing loss burdens working memory, brings about stress, and hinders communication. But what about hearing aids? Hearing aids are supposed to enhance hearing, so in theory hearing aids should clear up working memory and improve speech comprehension, right?
That’s precisely what Jamie Desjardins, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Speech-Language Pathology Program at The University of Texas at El Paso, was intending to find out.
DesJardins studied a group of men and women in their 50s and 60s with two-sided hearing loss who had never utilized hearing aids. They took an initial cognitive test that measured working memory, attention, and processing speed, prior to ever putting on a pair of hearing aids.
After utilizing hearing aids for two weeks, the group retook the test. What DesJardins found was that the group participants exhibited noticeable improvement in their cognitive aptitude, with improved short-term recall and faster processing speed. The hearing aids had broadened their working memory, decreased 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 almost every area of their lives. Better speech comprehension and memory can improve conversations, strengthen relationships, enhance learning, and augment efficiency at work.
This experiment is one that you can try out for yourself. Our hearing aid trial period will permit you to carry out your own no-risk experiment to find out if you can accomplish the same improvements in memory and speech comprehension.
Are you up for the challenge?