Have you ever taken a course, or went to a lecture, where the information was presented so rapidly or in so complicated a fashion that you learned almost nothing? If yes, your working memory was likely overwhelmed beyond its total capacity.
Working memory and its limitations
All of us 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 problem is, there is a limitation to the quantity of information your working memory can hold. Picture your working memory as an empty cup: you can fill it with water, but once full, additional water just flows out the edge.
That’s why, if you’re talking to someone who’s preoccupied or focused on their smartphone, your words are just flowing out of their already occupied working memory. So you have to repeat yourself, which they’ll be aware of only when they empty their cognitive cup, devoting the mental resources required to comprehend your message.
Working memory and hearing loss
So what does working memory have to do with hearing loss? In terms of speech comprehension, almost everything.
If you have hearing loss, particularly high-frequency hearing loss (the most typical), you probably have difficulty hearing the higher-pitched consonant sounds of speech. Consequently, it’s easy to misunderstand what is said or to miss out on words entirely.
But that’s not all. Together with not hearing some spoken words, you’re also taxing your working memory as you try to understand speech using complementary information like context and visual cues.
This continual processing of incomplete information burdens your working memory past its potential. And to complicate matters, as we age, the capacity of our working memory declines, exacerbating the effects.
Working memory and hearing aids
Hearing loss taxes working memory, brings about stress, and obstructs 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 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 worn hearing aids. They took a preliminary cognitive test that measured working memory, attention, and information processing speed, before ever putting on a pair of hearing aids.
After using hearing aids for two weeks, the group retook the test. What DesJardins found was that the group participants displayed appreciable improvement in their cognitive ability, with greater short-term recall 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 accelerate the speed at which they processed information.
The implications of the study are wide ranging. With improved cognitive function, hearing aid users could find enhancement in practically every aspect of their lives. Better speech comprehension and memory can improve conversations, bolster relationships, elevate learning, and augment efficiency at work.
This experiment is one that you can try out for yourself. Our hearing aid trial period will permit you to run your own no-risk experiment to see if you can achieve the same improvements in memory and speech comprehension.
Are you up for the challenge?