Have you ever taken a course, or attended a lecture, where the ideas were presented so rapidly or in so complex a fashion that you learned practically nothing? If yes, your working memory was most likely overloaded beyond its total capacity.
The limits of working memory
We all 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 limitation to the volume of information your working memory can hold. Picture your working memory as an empty container: you can fill it with water, but once full, additional water just pours out the side.
That’s why, if you’re talking to someone who’s distracted or on their smartphone, your words are simply flowing out of their already filled working memory. So you have to repeat yourself, which they’ll fully grasp only when they clear their cognitive cup, devoting the mental resources required to comprehend your message.
The impact of hearing loss on working memory
So what does working memory have to do with hearing loss? When it comes to speech comprehension, almost everything.
If you have hearing loss, especially high-frequency hearing loss (the most typical), you likely have problems 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. In combination with not hearing some spoken words, you’re also straining your working memory as you attempt to comprehend speech using extra information like context and visual cues.
This continuous processing of incomplete information burdens your working memory past its potential. And to make matters worse, as we grow older, the capacity of our working memory is reduced, exacerbating the consequences.
Working memory and hearing aids
Hearing loss taxes working memory, produces 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 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 men and women in their 50s and 60s with bilateral hearing loss who had never worn 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 exhibited sizable enhancement in their cognitive ability, with greater short-term recollection and quicker processing speed. The hearing aids had broadened their working memory, decreased the quantity of information tied 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 virtually every area of their lives. Better speech comprehension and memory can improve conversations, strengthen relationships, elevate learning, and boost productivity at work.
This experiment is one that you can test 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 achieve the same improvements in memory and speech comprehension.
Are you up for the task?