Have you ever taken a course, or attended a lecture, where the information was delivered so quickly or in so complicated a fashion that you learned practically nothing? If yes, your working memory was likely overwhelmed past its 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 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. Picture your working memory as an empty container: you can fill it with water, but once full, additional water just flows out the side.
That’s why, if you’re speaking to someone who’s distracted or focused on their cell phone, your words are simply pouring out of their already filled 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 comprehend your speech.
The impact of hearing loss on working memory
So what does working memory have to do with hearing loss? In terms of speech comprehension, just about everything.
If you have hearing loss, especially high-frequency hearing loss (the most common), you most likely have trouble 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 completely.
However that’s not all. Along with not hearing some spoken words, you’re also straining your working memory as you try to perceive speech using supplemental data like context and visual cues.
This continual processing of incomplete information burdens your working memory past its capacity. And to complicate matters, as we get older, the capacity of our working memory diminishes, exacerbating the effects.
Working memory and hearing aids
Hearing loss burdens working memory, brings about stress, and obstructs communication. But what about hearing aids? Hearing aids are intended to enhance hearing, so theoretically 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 individuals in their 50s and 60s with bilateral hearing loss who had never utilized hearing aids. They took a preliminary cognitive test that measured working memory, attention, and processing speed, before 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 displayed considerable enhancement in their cognitive ability, with improved short-term recollection 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 elevated cognitive function, hearing aid users could see enhancement in virtually 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 allow you to carry out your own no-risk experiment to see if you can achieve the same improvements in memory and speech comprehension.
Are you up for the task?