Have you ever taken a course, or attended a lecture, where the content was delivered so rapidly or in so complicated a manner that you learned practically nothing? If so, your working memory was likely overwhelmed over and above its capacity.
The limitations of working memory
All of us process information in three steps: 1) sensory information is received, where it is 2) either disregarded or temporarily retained in working memory, and finally, 3) either disposed of or stored in long-term memory.
The issue is, there is a limit to the amount of information your working memory can hold. Think of your working memory as an empty container: you can fill it with water, but once full, additional water just pours 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 flowing out of their already occupied working memory. So you have to repeat yourself, which they’ll be aware of only when they clear their cognitive cup, devoting the mental resources necessary to comprehend your message.
Working memory and hearing loss
So what does this have to do with hearing loss? In terms of speech comprehension, almost everything.
If you have hearing loss, especially high-frequency hearing loss (the most typical), you most likely have problems hearing the higher-pitched consonant sounds of speech. Because of this, 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 straining your working memory as you attempt to perceive speech using extra information like context and visual signs.
This continual processing of incomplete information burdens your working memory beyond its capacity. And to make things worse, as we get older, the volume of our working memory diminishes, exacerbating the consequences.
Working memory and hearing aids
Hearing loss burdens working memory, brings about stress, and impedes communication. But what about hearing aids? Hearing aids are intended to enhance hearing, so theoretically hearing aids should clear 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 intending to find out.
DesJardins studied a group of individuals in their 50s and 60s with bilateral hearing loss who had never worn hearing aids. They took an initial cognitive test that measured working memory, attention, and information processing speed, prior to ever wearing a pair of hearing aids.
Then, after utilizing hearing aids for two weeks, the group retook the test. What DesJardins found was that the group participants showed considerable enhancement in their cognitive ability, with improved short-term recall and quicker processing speed. The hearing aids had expanded their working memory, decreased the quantity 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 improved cognitive function, hearing aid users could observe enhancement in practically every aspect of their lives. Better speech comprehension and memory can improve conversations, strengthen relationships, elevate learning, and augment productivity 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 the same improvements in memory and speech comprehension.
Are you up for the challenge?