Have you ever taken a class, or attended a lecture, where the content was delivered so quickly or in so complex a fashion that you learned next to nothing? If yes, your working memory was likely overwhelmed past its total capacity.
The limits of working memory
We all process information in three steps: 1) sensory information is received, where it is 2) either unnoticed or temporarily stored in working memory, and last, 3) either disposed of or stored in long-term memory.
The problem is, there is a limit to the volume of information your working memory can hold. Think of your working memory as an empty cup: you can fill it with water, but after it’s full, extra water just flows out the edge.
That’s why, if you’re speaking 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 fully grasp only when they empty their cognitive cup, devoting the mental resources necessary to fully understand your message.
The effects of hearing loss on working memory
So what does this have to do with hearing loss? In regards to speech comprehension, just about everything.
If you have hearing loss, specifically high-frequency hearing loss (the most typical), 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 words completely.
But that’s not all. In combination with not hearing some spoken words, you’re also taxing your working memory as you attempt to understand speech using supplementary information like context and visual cues.
This constant processing of incomplete information burdens your working memory beyond its capacity. And to make things worse, as we age, the volume of our working memory diminishes, exacerbating the consequences.
Working memory and hearing aids
Hearing loss burdens working memory, produces stress, and hinders 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 exactly 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 used 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.
Then, after utilizing hearing aids for two weeks, the group retook the test. What DesJardins found was that the group participants showed noticeable enhancement in their cognitive aptitude, with greater short-term recollection and faster processing speed. The hearing aids had broadened their working memory, decreased the amount of information tangled up in working memory, and helped them increase 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 nearly every area of their lives. Better speech comprehension and memory can improve conversations, strengthen relationships, elevate learning, and boost efficiency at work.
This experiment is one that you can try out for yourself. Our hearing aid trial period will enable you to carry out 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?