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 practically nothing? If yes, your working memory was most likely overwhelmed past its total capacity.
The limitations of working memory
We all process information in three steps: 1) sensory information is received, where it is 2) either ignored or temporarily stored in working memory, and last, 3) either discarded or stored in long-term memory.
The problem is, there is a limitation to the amount 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, additional water just pours out the side.
That’s why, if you’re speaking to someone who’s distracted or focused on their cell phone, your words are just pouring out of their already filled working memory. So you have to repeat yourself, which they’ll comprehend only when they empty their cognitive cup, dedicating the mental resources necessary to comprehend your speech.
The impact of hearing loss on working memory
So what does this have to do with hearing loss? In regards to speech comprehension, almost everything.
If you have hearing loss, especially high-frequency hearing loss (the most typical), you likely have difficulty hearing the higher-pitched consonant sounds of speech. As a result, it’s easy to misunderstand what is said or to miss words entirely.
However that’s not all. Along with not hearing some spoken words, you’re also straining your working memory as you attempt to understand speech using complementary data like context and visual cues.
This persistent processing of incomplete information burdens your working memory past its potential. And to complicate matters, as we age, the capacity of our working memory is reduced, exacerbating the consequences.
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 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 utilized 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.
Then, after wearing hearing aids for two weeks, the group retook the test. What DesJardins found was that the group participants exhibited considerable improvement in their cognitive aptitude, with greater short-term recollection and faster 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 virtually every area of their lives. Better speech comprehension and memory can improve conversations, bolster relationships, enhance learning, and boost productivity at work.
This experiment is one that you can test out for yourself. Our hearing aid trial period will permit you to carry out your own no-risk experiment to find out if you can achieve the same improvements in memory and speech comprehension.
Are you up for the challenge?