Have you ever taken a course, or went to a lecture, where the content was presented so quickly or in so complex a fashion that you learned next to nothing? If yes, your working memory was likely overloaded over and above its total capacity.
Working memory and its limits
We all process information in three steps: 1) sensory information is received, where it is 2) either unnoticed or temporarily retained 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 glass: 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 distracted 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 comprehend only when they clear their cognitive cup, dedicating the mental resources necessary to fully grasp your speech.
The effects of hearing loss on working memory
So what does this have to do with hearing loss? In relation to speech comprehension, just about everything.
If you have hearing loss, particularly high-frequency hearing loss (the most common), you very likely have problems 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. Along with not hearing some spoken words, you’re also straining your working memory as you attempt to comprehend speech using supplemental data like context and visual signs.
This continual processing of incomplete information burdens your working memory past its potential. And to complicate things, as we get older, the capacity of our working memory declines, exacerbating the effects.
Working memory and hearing aids
Hearing loss burdens working memory, produces stress, and impedes communication. But what about hearing aids? Hearing aids are supposed to enhance hearing, so theoretically 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 individuals in their 50s and 60s with two-sided hearing loss who had never worn hearing aids. They took an initial cognitive test that measured working memory, attention, and information processing speed, prior to ever wearing a pair of hearing aids.
After utilizing hearing aids for two weeks, the group retook the test. What DesJardins found was that the group participants demonstrated considerable enhancement in their cognitive aptitude, with greater short-term recollection and faster processing speed. The hearing aids had expanded 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 improved cognitive function, hearing aid users could find improvement in nearly every aspect 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 test out for yourself. Our hearing aid trial period will enable you to carry out your own no-risk experiment to see if you can accomplish similar improvements in memory and speech comprehension.
Are you up for the task?