Have you ever taken a course, or went to a lecture, where the ideas were delivered so quickly or in so complex a manner that you learned next to nothing? If yes, your working memory was most likely overloaded beyond 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 stored in working memory, and last, 3) either disposed of or stored in long-term memory.
The trouble is, there is a limitation 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 once full, additional water just flows out the side.
That’s why, if you’re speaking to someone who’s preoccupied or on their smartphone, your words are just pouring out of their already occupied working memory. So you have to repeat yourself, which they’ll be aware of only when they clear their cognitive cup, dedicating the mental resources necessary to comprehend your speech.
The effects of hearing loss on working memory
So what does this have to do with hearing loss? In terms of speech comprehension, just about everything.
If you have hearing loss, in particular high-frequency hearing loss (the most typical), you very likely have trouble hearing the higher-pitched consonant sounds of speech. Consequently, it’s easy to misunderstand what is said or to miss words completely.
But that’s not all. In combination with not hearing some spoken words, you’re also straining your working memory as you attempt to comprehend speech using supplementary information like context and visual signs.
This continual processing of incomplete information burdens your working memory past its capacity. And to complicate matters, as we get older, the capacity of our working memory decreases, exacerbating the effects.
Working memory and hearing aids
Hearing loss taxes working memory, creates stress, and obstructs communication. But what about hearing aids? Hearing aids are intended to enhance hearing, so theoretically hearing aids should clear 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 two-sided hearing loss who had never used hearing aids. They took an initial 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 displayed significant enhancement in their cognitive aptitude, with better short-term recall and quicker processing speed. The hearing aids had expanded their working memory, reduced 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 enhanced cognitive function, hearing aid users could observe enhancement in nearly every area of their lives. Better speech comprehension and memory can improve conversations, strengthen 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 see if you can accomplish the same improvements in memory and speech comprehension.
Are you up for the challenge?