Have you ever taken a class, or went to a lecture, where the content was delivered so rapidly or in so complex a fashion that you learned next to nothing? If yes, your working memory was most likely overwhelmed beyond its capacity.
Working memory and its limitations
We all process information in three steps: 1) sensory information is received, where it is 2) either unnoticed or temporarily retained in working memory, and last, 3) either disposed of 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 preoccupied or focused on their cell phone, your words are simply flowing 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, dedicating the mental resources necessary to comprehend your speech.
Working memory and hearing loss
So what does this have to do with hearing loss? In relation to speech comprehension, just about everything.
If you have hearing loss, particularly high-frequency hearing loss (the most common), you probably have trouble hearing the higher-pitched consonant sounds of speech. Consequently, it’s easy to misinterpret what is said or to miss words entirely.
But that’s not all. Together with not hearing some spoken words, you’re also taxing your working memory as you attempt to comprehend speech using additional data like context and visual cues.
This persistent processing of incomplete information burdens your working memory past its potential. And to make matters worse, as we age, the volume of our working memory decreases, 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 supposed to enhance hearing, so theoretically hearing aids should clear 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 individuals in their 50s and 60s with bilateral hearing loss who had never used hearing aids. They took an initial cognitive test that measured working memory, attention, and information processing speed, before 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 displayed sizable improvement in their cognitive aptitude, with improved short-term recollection and faster processing speed. The hearing aids had broadened 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 elevated cognitive function, hearing aid users could witness enhancement in nearly every aspect of their lives. Better speech comprehension and memory can improve conversations, bolster relationships, enhance learning, and boost 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 find out if you can accomplish similar improvements in memory and speech comprehension.
Are you up for the challenge?