Have you ever taken a course, or went to a lecture, where the ideas were presented so rapidly or in so complex a manner that you learned practically nothing? If so, your working memory was most likely overloaded past its capacity.
Working memory and its limitations
We all process information in three steps: 1) sensory information is received, where it is 2) either disregarded or temporarily retained in working memory, and last, 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. Think of your working memory as an empty container: you can fill it with water, but after it’s full, extra water just flows out the side.
That’s why, if you’re speaking 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 comprehend only when they clear their cognitive cup, devoting the mental resources necessary to understand your message.
Working memory and hearing loss
So what does this have to do with hearing loss? In relation to speech comprehension, almost everything.
If you have hearing loss, specifically high-frequency hearing loss (the most common), you probably have difficulty hearing the higher-pitched consonant sounds of speech. Consequently, it’s easy to misinterpret what is said or to miss words completely.
But that’s not all. Along with not hearing some spoken words, you’re also taxing your working memory as you try to perceive speech using supplemental data like context and visual signs.
This constant processing of incomplete information burdens your working memory past its capability. And to complicate things, as we get older, the capacity of our working memory diminishes, exacerbating the consequences.
Working memory and hearing aids
Hearing loss burdens working memory, creates stress, and impedes communication. But what about hearing aids? Hearing aids are supposed to enhance hearing, so theoretically hearing aids should free 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 about to find out.
DesJardins studied a group of individuals in their 50s and 60s with two-sided hearing loss who had never used hearing aids. They took a preliminary cognitive test that measured working memory, attention, and information processing speed, prior to ever putting on a pair of hearing aids.
Then, after using hearing aids for two weeks, the group retook the test. What DesJardins found was that the group participants displayed significant enhancement in their cognitive ability, with improved short-term recollection and quicker processing speed. The hearing aids had broadened their working memory, decreased 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 improved cognitive function, hearing aid users could see enhancement in virtually every aspect of their lives. Better speech comprehension and memory can improve conversations, bolster relationships, enhance learning, and supercharge efficiency 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 see if you can accomplish similar improvements in memory and speech comprehension.
Are you up for the challenge?