Have you ever taken a course, or went to a lecture, where the content was delivered so quickly or in so complicated a manner that you learned next to nothing? If yes, your working memory was probably overloaded beyond 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 dismissed or temporarily stored in working memory, and last, 3) either discarded or stored in long-term memory.
The trouble is, there is a limitation to the volume of information your working memory can hold. Think of your working memory as an empty cup: you can fill it with water, but once full, additional water just flows out the edge.
That’s why, if you’re talking to someone who’s distracted or on their smartphone, your words are just flowing out of their already filled working memory. So you have to repeat yourself, which they’ll comprehend only when they clear their cognitive cup, dedicating the mental resources necessary to fully understand your speech.
The impact of hearing loss on 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, in particular high-frequency hearing loss (the most typical), you likely have problems hearing the higher-pitched consonant sounds of speech. Consequently, it’s easy to misunderstand what is said or to miss words entirely.
But that’s not all. In addition to not hearing some spoken words, you’re also straining your working memory as you attempt to comprehend speech using supplemental information like context and visual signs.
This constant processing of incomplete information burdens your working memory past its potential. And to complicate matters, as we age, the capacity of our working memory declines, exacerbating the effects.
Working memory and hearing aids
Hearing loss taxes working memory, brings about 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 men and women in their 50s and 60s with two-sided hearing loss who had never worn 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 utilizing hearing aids for two weeks, the group retook the test. What DesJardins found was that the group participants showed noticeable improvement in their cognitive ability, with better short-term recollection and quicker processing speed. The hearing aids had expanded their working memory, decreased the quantity of information tied up in working memory, and helped them accelerate the speed at which they processed information.
The implications of the study are wide-ranging. With elevated cognitive function, hearing aid users could find enhancement in nearly every area of their lives. Better speech comprehension and memory can improve conversations, bolster relationships, elevate learning, and stimulate productivity at work.
This experiment is one that you can test out for yourself. Our hearing aid trial period will allow you to run your own no-risk experiment to find out if you can achieve similar improvements in memory and speech comprehension.
Are you up for the challenge?