Have you ever taken a class, or attended a lecture, where the content was presented so quickly or in so complex a fashion that you learned next to nothing? If so, your working memory was probably overloaded beyond 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 stored in working memory, and last, 3) either disposed of or stored in long-term memory.
The issue is, there is a limitation to the volume of information your working memory can hold. Imagine your working memory as an empty container: you can fill it with water, but once full, extra water just flows out the edge.
That’s why, if you’re speaking to someone who’s distracted 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, dedicating the mental resources necessary to fully grasp 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, particularly high-frequency hearing loss (the most common), you probably have difficulty hearing the higher-pitched consonant sounds of speech. Because of this, it’s easy to misinterpret what is said or to miss words entirely.
However that’s not all. In combination with not hearing some spoken words, you’re also taxing your working memory as you attempt to comprehend speech using supplemental data like context and visual cues.
This continuous processing of incomplete information burdens your working memory beyond its capability. And to complicate things, as we grow older, the capacity of our working memory is reduced, exacerbating the effects.
Working memory and hearing aids
Hearing loss burdens working memory, creates 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 about to find out.
DesJardins studied a group of men and women 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.
After utilizing hearing aids for two weeks, the group retook the test. What DesJardins found was that the group participants showed sizable improvement in their cognitive aptitude, with improved short-term recollection and faster processing speed. The hearing aids had expanded their working memory, reduced the quantity of information tangled up in working memory, and helped them increase the speed at which they processed information.
The implications of the study are wide ranging. With elevated cognitive function, hearing aid users could observe improvement in almost every area 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 enable you to run your own no-risk experiment to see if you can achieve similar improvements in memory and speech comprehension.
Are you up for the task?