Have you ever taken a course, or went to a lecture, where the ideas were delivered so quickly or in so complicated a fashion that you learned next to nothing? If yes, your working memory was probably overwhelmed beyond its capacity.
Working memory and its limits
All of us process information in three steps: 1) sensory information is received, where it is 2) either unnoticed or temporarily stored in working memory, and last, 3) either discarded or stored in long-term memory.
The trouble is, there is a limitation to the amount of information your working memory can hold. Picture your working memory as an empty glass: you can fill it with water, but once full, additional water just flows out the side.
That’s why, if you’re talking to someone who’s preoccupied or on their cell phone, your words are just pouring out of their already occupied working memory. So you have to repeat yourself, which they’ll comprehend only when they empty their cognitive cup, dedicating the mental resources required to fully grasp your speech.
The impact 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, in particular high-frequency hearing loss (the most common), you very likely have problems hearing the higher-pitched consonant sounds of speech. Consequently, it’s easy to misunderstand what is said or to miss words entirely.
But that’s not all. In addition to not hearing some spoken words, you’re also taxing your working memory as you attempt to perceive speech using supplemental information like context and visual signs.
This continuous processing of incomplete information burdens your working memory past its capacity. And to complicate matters, as we get older, the capacity 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 supposed to enhance hearing, so in theory 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 intending to find out.
DesJardins studied a group of individuals in their 50s and 60s with two-sided hearing loss who had never worn 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 utilizing hearing aids for two weeks, the group retook the test. What DesJardins found was that the group participants displayed noticeable improvement in their cognitive ability, with greater short-term recall and faster 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 improved cognitive function, hearing aid users could observe enhancement in nearly every area of their lives. Better speech comprehension and memory can improve conversations, bolster relationships, elevate 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 run your own no-risk experiment to find out if you can accomplish similar improvements in memory and speech comprehension.
Are you up for the task?