Have you ever taken a class, or attended a lecture, where the ideas were delivered so rapidly or in so complex a manner that you learned almost nothing? If so, your working memory was probably overwhelmed over and above its capacity.
The limits of working memory
All of us process information in three steps: 1) sensory information is received, where it is 2) either disregarded or temporarily retained in working memory, and finally, 3) either discarded or stored in long-term memory.
The problem is, there is a limitation 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 pours out the side.
That’s why, if you’re talking to someone who’s preoccupied or focused on their smartphone, your words are simply pouring out of their already filled working memory. So you have to repeat yourself, which they’ll be aware of only when they empty their cognitive cup, devoting the mental resources required to fully grasp your speech.
The impact 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, especially high-frequency hearing loss (the most common), you very likely have difficulty hearing the higher-pitched consonant sounds of speech. Consequently, it’s easy to misinterpret what is said or to miss out on words completely.
However that’s not all. Along with not hearing some spoken words, you’re also taxing your working memory as you try to comprehend speech using complementary data like context and visual signs.
This persistent processing of incomplete information burdens your working memory beyond its capability. And to complicate matters, as we grow older, the capacity of our working memory diminishes, exacerbating the consequences.
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 in theory 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 intending to find out.
DesJardins studied a group of individuals in their 50s and 60s with bilateral hearing loss who had never utilized hearing aids. They took an initial cognitive test that measured working memory, attention, and processing speed, prior to 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 displayed considerable enhancement in their cognitive aptitude, with better short-term recollection and quicker processing speed. The hearing aids had expanded 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 see enhancement in virtually every aspect of their lives. Better speech comprehension and memory can improve conversations, strengthen relationships, enhance learning, and supercharge efficiency at work.
This experiment is one that you can try out for yourself. Our hearing aid trial period will permit you to carry out your own no-risk experiment to see if you can achieve the same improvements in memory and speech comprehension.
Are you up for the task?