Have you ever taken a course, or went to a lecture, where the content was presented so quickly or in so complicated a fashion that you learned next to nothing? If yes, your working memory was likely overloaded beyond 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 stored in working memory, and finally, 3) either disposed of or stored in long-term memory.
The trouble is, there is a limitation 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 after it’s full, extra water just pours out the edge.
That’s why, if you’re talking to someone who’s preoccupied or on their cell phone, your words are just flowing out of their already occupied working memory. So you have to repeat yourself, which they’ll be aware of only when they empty their cognitive cup, dedicating the mental resources necessary to 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, particularly high-frequency hearing loss (the most common), you likely have difficulty hearing the higher-pitched consonant sounds of speech. Because of this, it’s easy to misinterpret what is said or to miss out on words completely.
But that’s not all. Together with not hearing some spoken words, you’re also straining your working memory as you attempt to understand speech using supplementary data like context and visual signs.
This continual processing of incomplete information burdens your working memory past its capability. And to make matters worse, as we grow older, the capacity of our working memory decreases, 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 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 individuals in their 50s and 60s with two-sided hearing loss who had never worn hearing aids. They took a preliminary cognitive test that measured working memory, attention, and 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 showed appreciable improvement in their cognitive ability, with greater short-term recollection and quicker processing speed. The hearing aids had broadened their working memory, decreased the amount of information tied up in working memory, and helped them increase the speed at which they processed information.
The implications of the study are wide-ranging. With enhanced cognitive function, hearing aid users could see enhancement in practically every area of their lives. Better speech comprehension and memory can improve conversations, strengthen relationships, enhance learning, and boost efficiency at work.
This experiment is one that you can try 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 similar improvements in memory and speech comprehension.
Are you up for the challenge?