Have you ever taken a class, or went to a lecture, where the information was delivered so quickly or in so complex a fashion that you learned practically nothing? If yes, your working memory was most likely overloaded over and above 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 ignored or temporarily retained in working memory, and last, 3) either disposed of or stored in long-term memory.
The trouble is, there is a limit to the quantity of information your working memory can hold. Imagine your working memory as an empty cup: you can fill it with water, but once full, additional water just flows out the edge.
That’s why, if you’re talking to someone who’s distracted or on their smartphone, your words are simply pouring out of their already filled working memory. So you have to repeat yourself, which they’ll understand only when they clear their cognitive cup, devoting the mental resources necessary to comprehend your message.
The impact of hearing loss on working memory
So what does working memory have to do with hearing loss? In terms of speech comprehension, almost everything.
If you have hearing loss, specifically high-frequency hearing loss (the most typical), you likely have problems hearing the higher-pitched consonant sounds of speech. Because of this, it’s easy to misunderstand what is said or to miss words completely.
However that’s not all. Together with not hearing some spoken words, you’re also taxing your working memory as you try to comprehend speech using extra information like context and visual cues.
This continuous processing of incomplete information burdens your working memory past its capacity. And to make things worse, as we age, the capacity of our working memory decreases, exacerbating the effects.
Working memory and hearing aids
Hearing loss burdens working memory, produces stress, and obstructs communication. But what about hearing aids? Hearing aids are supposed to enhance hearing, so theoretically 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 intending 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, prior to ever putting on a pair of hearing aids.
Then, after using hearing aids for two weeks, the group retook the test. What DesJardins found was that the group participants displayed appreciable improvement in their cognitive aptitude, with improved short-term recall and quicker processing speed. The hearing aids had broadened their working memory, reduced the quantity 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 observe improvement in practically every aspect of their lives. Better speech comprehension and memory can improve conversations, bolster relationships, elevate learning, and augment productivity 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 see if you can achieve the same improvements in memory and speech comprehension.
Are you up for the task?