Have you ever taken a class, or went to a lecture, where the content was delivered so quickly or in so complicated a fashion that you learned almost nothing? If yes, your working memory was likely overloaded beyond its capacity.
Working memory and its limits
We all process information in three steps: 1) sensory information is received, where it is 2) either ignored or temporarily retained in working memory, and last, 3) either disposed of or stored in long-term memory.
The trouble is, there is a limit to the volume of information your working memory can hold. Think of 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 talking to someone who’s preoccupied or focused on their smartphone, your words are simply flowing out of their already occupied working memory. So you have to repeat yourself, which they’ll comprehend only when they empty their cognitive cup, devoting the mental resources required to fully grasp your message.
Hearing loss and working memory
So what does working memory 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 difficulties 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. In combination with not hearing some spoken words, you’re also taxing your working memory as you attempt to understand speech using complementary 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 grow older, the volume of our working memory diminishes, exacerbating the consequences.
Working memory and hearing aids
Hearing loss taxes working memory, creates stress, and impedes communication. But what about hearing aids? Hearing aids are intended to enhance hearing, so in theory 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 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 information processing speed, prior to ever wearing 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 demonstrated appreciable enhancement in their cognitive aptitude, with greater short-term recall and faster processing speed. The hearing aids had broadened their working memory, reduced 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 witness improvement in almost every aspect of their lives. Better speech comprehension and memory can improve conversations, bolster relationships, enhance learning, and augment 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 achieve the same improvements in memory and speech comprehension.
Are you up for the task?