Have you ever taken a class, or attended a lecture, where the content was delivered so rapidly or in so complicated a manner that you learned almost nothing? If so, your working memory was probably overloaded over and above its total capacity.
Working memory and its limits
All of us process information in three steps: 1) sensory information is received, where it is 2) either dismissed 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 amount of information your working memory can hold. Picture your working memory as an empty container: you can fill it with water, but once full, extra water just pours out the side.
That’s why, if you’re speaking to someone who’s preoccupied or focused on their smartphone, your words are simply flowing out of their already occupied working memory. So you have to repeat yourself, which they’ll fully grasp only when they empty their cognitive cup, devoting the mental resources necessary to understand your speech.
Hearing loss and working memory
So what does working memory have to do with hearing loss? In regards to speech comprehension, just about everything.
If you have hearing loss, specifically high-frequency hearing loss (the most typical), you likely have difficulty hearing the higher-pitched consonant sounds of speech. As a result, it’s easy to misinterpret what is said or to miss out on words entirely.
But that’s not all. In combination with not hearing some spoken words, you’re also taxing your working memory as you attempt to understand speech using complementary data like context and visual cues.
This continuous processing of incomplete information burdens your working memory beyond its capacity. And to complicate things, as we grow older, the volume of our working memory declines, 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 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 processing speed, before ever wearing a pair of hearing aids.
Then, after wearing hearing aids for two weeks, the group retook the test. What DesJardins found was that the group participants demonstrated appreciable 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 tangled up in working memory, and helped them accelerate the speed at which they processed information.
The implications of the study are wide ranging. With enhanced cognitive function, hearing aid users could find enhancement in practically every area of their lives. Better speech comprehension and memory can improve conversations, strengthen relationships, enhance learning, and supercharge efficiency at work.
This experiment is one that you can try out for yourself. Our hearing aid trial period will allow you to carry out your own no-risk experiment to find out if you can achieve the same improvements in memory and speech comprehension.
Are you up for the task?