Have you ever taken a course, or went to a lecture, where the content was presented so rapidly or in so complicated a fashion that you learned next to nothing? If yes, your working memory was most likely overwhelmed beyond its capacity.
The limitations of working memory
All of us 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 amount of information your working memory can hold. Picture your working memory as an empty glass: you can fill it with water, but once full, extra 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 flowing out of their already filled working memory. So you have to repeat yourself, which they’ll understand only when they empty their cognitive cup, devoting the mental resources necessary to comprehend your speech.
Working memory and hearing loss
So what does this have to do with hearing loss? In regards to speech comprehension, almost everything.
If you have hearing loss, specifically high-frequency hearing loss (the most typical), you very likely have problems 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.
However that’s not all. In combination with not hearing some spoken words, you’re also taxing your working memory as you try to perceive speech using complementary data like context and visual signs.
This continuous processing of incomplete information burdens your working memory beyond its capacity. And to complicate matters, as we grow older, the capacity of our working memory diminishes, 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 precisely 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 bilateral hearing loss who had never worn hearing aids. They took an initial cognitive test that measured working memory, attention, and processing speed, before ever putting on a pair of hearing aids.
Then, after utilizing hearing aids for two weeks, the group retook the test. What DesJardins found was that the group participants exhibited appreciable improvement in their cognitive ability, with better short-term recollection and faster processing speed. The hearing aids had broadened their working memory, decreased the quantity 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 witness improvement in nearly every area of their lives. Better speech comprehension and memory can improve conversations, strengthen relationships, elevate learning, and augment efficiency 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?