Have you ever taken a course, or went to a lecture, where the content was presented so rapidly or in so complex a fashion that you learned next to nothing? If so, your working memory was most likely overloaded over and above its capacity.
Working memory and its limitations
We all process information in three steps: 1) sensory information is received, where it is 2) either dismissed or temporarily retained in working memory, and finally, 3) either discarded or stored in long-term memory.
The issue is, there is a limit to the quantity 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 side.
That’s why, if you’re talking to someone who’s preoccupied or on their smartphone, your words are just flowing out of their already filled working memory. So you have to repeat yourself, which they’ll comprehend only when they empty their cognitive cup, dedicating the mental resources necessary to understand your message.
Working memory and hearing loss
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 common), you probably have difficulty hearing the higher-pitched consonant sounds of speech. Because of this, 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 straining your working memory as you attempt to comprehend speech using supplemental information like context and visual cues.
This continual processing of incomplete information burdens your working memory beyond its potential. And to make matters worse, as we get older, the volume of our working memory declines, exacerbating the consequences.
Working memory and hearing aids
Hearing loss taxes working memory, produces stress, and impedes communication. But what about hearing aids? Hearing aids are supposed to enhance hearing, so in theory hearing aids should free 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 men and women in their 50s and 60s with bilateral hearing loss who had never used hearing aids. They took a preliminary cognitive test that measured working memory, attention, and information processing speed, prior to ever wearing a pair of hearing aids.
After wearing hearing aids for two weeks, the group retook the test. What DesJardins found was that the group participants exhibited significant improvement in their cognitive aptitude, with greater short-term recall and quicker 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 elevated cognitive function, hearing aid users could find improvement in virtually every aspect 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 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 similar improvements in memory and speech comprehension.
Are you up for the task?