Have you ever taken a course, or attended a lecture, where the information was delivered so rapidly or in so complicated a manner that you learned next to nothing? If so, your working memory was likely overloaded over and above its total capacity.
The limitations of working memory
We all process information in three steps: 1) sensory information is received, where it is 2) either ignored or temporarily retained in working memory, and last, 3) either discarded or stored in long-term memory.
The problem is, there is a limit to the amount of information your working memory can hold. Picture your working memory as an empty glass: you can fill it with water, but after it’s full, additional water just pours out the side.
That’s why, if you’re talking to someone who’s preoccupied or focused on their cell phone, your words are simply flowing out of their already occupied working memory. So you have to repeat yourself, which they’ll be aware of only when they clear their cognitive cup, dedicating the mental resources necessary to fully understand your message.
Hearing loss and working memory
So what does this have to do with hearing loss? When it comes to speech comprehension, just about everything.
If you have hearing loss, especially high-frequency hearing loss (the most typical), you likely have problems hearing the higher-pitched consonant sounds of speech. Consequently, 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 complementary information like context and visual signs.
This continual processing of incomplete information burdens your working memory beyond its capability. And to complicate things, as we grow older, the volume of our working memory decreases, exacerbating the effects.
Working memory and hearing aids
Hearing loss burdens working memory, creates stress, and impedes 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 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 an initial cognitive test that measured working memory, attention, and processing speed, before 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 demonstrated appreciable enhancement in their cognitive aptitude, with better short-term recollection and quicker processing speed. The hearing aids had broadened their working memory, reduced the amount of information tied 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 witness enhancement in almost every aspect of their lives. Better speech comprehension and memory can improve conversations, strengthen relationships, enhance learning, and stimulate productivity at work.
This experiment is one that you can test out for yourself. Our hearing aid trial period will enable you to run your own no-risk experiment to see if you can accomplish the same improvements in memory and speech comprehension.
Are you up for the challenge?