Have you ever taken a course, or went to a lecture, where the ideas were delivered so rapidly or in so complicated a fashion that you learned almost nothing? If yes, your working memory was most likely overloaded over and above its 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 retained in working memory, and finally, 3) either discarded or stored in long-term memory.
The problem is, there is a limit to the quantity of information your working memory can hold. Imagine your working memory as an empty cup: you can fill it with water, but after it’s full, additional water just flows out the edge.
That’s why, if you’re talking to someone who’s distracted or focused on their cell phone, your words are simply pouring out of their already occupied 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 necessary to fully grasp your speech.
The effects of hearing loss on working memory
So what does this have to do with hearing loss? In regards to speech comprehension, almost everything.
If you have hearing loss, especially high-frequency hearing loss (the most typical), you very likely have difficulty hearing the higher-pitched consonant sounds of speech. Because of this, it’s easy to misunderstand what is said or to miss words completely.
But that’s not all. Along with not hearing some spoken words, you’re also straining your working memory as you attempt to perceive speech using extra information like context and visual cues.
This constant processing of incomplete information burdens your working memory beyond its capacity. And to complicate things, 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 obstructs communication. But what about hearing aids? Hearing aids are intended to enhance hearing, so theoretically 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 intending to find out.
DesJardins studied a group of men and women in their 50s and 60s with bilateral hearing loss who had never used hearing aids. They took a preliminary cognitive test that measured working memory, attention, and processing speed, prior to ever wearing a pair of hearing aids.
After wearing hearing aids for two weeks, the group retook the test. What DesJardins found was that the group participants displayed noticeable improvement in their cognitive aptitude, with greater short-term recollection and quicker processing speed. The hearing aids had expanded their working memory, reduced the quantity 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 elevated cognitive function, hearing aid users could see enhancement in nearly every aspect of their lives. Better speech comprehension and memory can improve conversations, bolster relationships, elevate learning, and supercharge productivity at work.
This experiment is one that you can test out for yourself. Our hearing aid trial period will enable 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?