Have you ever taken a class, or attended a lecture, where the ideas were delivered so rapidly or in so complicated a fashion that you learned almost nothing? If so, your working memory was likely overloaded over and above 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 issue is, there is a limit to the volume of information your working memory can hold. Imagine your working memory as an empty glass: you can fill it with water, but after it’s full, extra water just flows out the side.
That’s why, if you’re talking to someone who’s preoccupied or focused on their smartphone, 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 required to fully grasp your message.
Hearing loss and 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. Consequently, it’s easy to misunderstand what is said or to miss out on words completely.
But that’s not all. Along with not hearing some spoken words, you’re also taxing your working memory as you attempt to perceive speech using additional information like context and visual signs.
This continuous processing of incomplete information burdens your working memory beyond its capability. And to complicate matters, 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 hinders communication. But what about hearing aids? Hearing aids are supposed to enhance hearing, so in theory hearing aids should clear 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 about to find out.
DesJardins studied a group of men and women 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 information processing speed, before ever putting on 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 ability, with greater short-term recollection and quicker processing speed. The hearing aids had broadened their working memory, decreased 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 enhanced cognitive function, hearing aid users could witness improvement in virtually every area of their lives. Better speech comprehension and memory can improve conversations, bolster relationships, enhance learning, and supercharge productivity 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 find out if you can accomplish the same improvements in memory and speech comprehension.
Are you up for the challenge?