Have you ever taken a course, or went to a lecture, where the information was presented so quickly or in so complex a fashion that you learned practically nothing? If yes, your working memory was probably overloaded beyond its capacity.
The limits of working memory
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 finally, 3) either discarded 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 container: you can fill it with water, but after it’s full, additional water just pours out the side.
That’s why, if you’re talking to someone who’s distracted or on their smartphone, your words are just pouring out of their already filled working memory. So you have to repeat yourself, which they’ll comprehend only when they empty their cognitive cup, dedicating the mental resources required to fully grasp your message.
Hearing loss and working memory
So what does this have to do with hearing loss? In regards to speech comprehension, just about everything.
If you have hearing loss, especially high-frequency hearing loss (the most common), you probably have trouble hearing the higher-pitched consonant sounds of speech. As a result, it’s easy to misunderstand what is said or to miss out on words entirely.
However that’s not all. In combination with not hearing some spoken words, you’re also taxing your working memory as you attempt to comprehend speech using supplemental information like context and visual signs.
This continual processing of incomplete information burdens your working memory past its potential. And to make matters worse, as we grow older, the capacity of our working memory is reduced, exacerbating the consequences.
Working memory and hearing aids
Hearing loss burdens working memory, produces stress, and obstructs communication. But what about hearing aids? Hearing aids are intended to enhance hearing, so in theory hearing aids should free 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 individuals in their 50s and 60s with two-sided hearing loss who had never utilized hearing aids. They took an initial cognitive test that measured working memory, attention, and information processing speed, prior to ever putting on a pair of hearing aids.
After using hearing aids for two weeks, the group retook the test. What DesJardins found was that the group participants displayed appreciable improvement in their cognitive aptitude, with greater short-term recollection and faster 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 improved cognitive function, hearing aid users could witness improvement in nearly every aspect of their lives. Better speech comprehension and memory can improve conversations, strengthen relationships, elevate learning, and boost efficiency 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 accomplish similar improvements in memory and speech comprehension.
Are you up for the challenge?