Have you ever taken a class, or went to a lecture, where the ideas were delivered so rapidly or in so complicated a manner that you learned next to nothing? If yes, your working memory was likely overwhelmed past its capacity.
Working memory and its limitations
We all process information in three steps: 1) sensory information is received, where it is 2) either unnoticed or temporarily stored in working memory, and finally, 3) either discarded or stored in long-term memory.
The trouble 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 after it’s full, additional water just pours out the edge.
That’s why, if you’re talking to someone who’s preoccupied 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 fully grasp only when they clear their cognitive cup, dedicating the mental resources necessary to fully understand 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, in particular high-frequency hearing loss (the most typical), you most likely have trouble hearing the higher-pitched consonant sounds of speech. Consequently, it’s easy to misunderstand what is said or to miss out on words completely.
But that’s not all. In addition to not hearing some spoken words, you’re also taxing your working memory as you try to understand speech using complementary data like context and visual signs.
This constant processing of incomplete information burdens your working memory past its capacity. And to make things worse, as we get older, the capacity of our working memory decreases, exacerbating the effects.
Working memory and hearing aids
Hearing loss burdens working memory, creates stress, and obstructs communication. But what about hearing aids? Hearing aids are intended to enhance hearing, so theoretically 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 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 utilized hearing aids. They took an initial cognitive test that measured working memory, attention, and information processing speed, before ever putting on 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 demonstrated noticeable enhancement in their cognitive ability, with better short-term recollection and quicker processing speed. The hearing aids had broadened their working memory, reduced the amount 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 improved cognitive function, hearing aid users could observe improvement in nearly every aspect 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 enable you to run 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?