Have you ever taken a course, or went to a lecture, where the ideas were presented so rapidly or in so complicated a manner that you learned next to nothing? If yes, your working memory was likely overwhelmed over and above its capacity.
Working memory and its limitations
All of us 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 disposed of or stored in long-term memory.
The issue is, there is a limit to the amount of information your working memory can hold. Think of your working memory as an empty container: you can fill it with water, but after it’s full, extra water just pours out the side.
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 clear their cognitive cup, devoting the mental resources necessary to fully understand your speech.
Working memory and hearing loss
So what does working memory have to do with hearing loss? When it comes to speech comprehension, just about everything.
If you have hearing loss, in particular high-frequency hearing loss (the most typical), you likely have difficulties 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 straining your working memory as you try to understand speech using extra information like context and visual cues.
This continual processing of incomplete information burdens your working memory beyond its capacity. And to complicate matters, as we get older, the capacity of our working memory diminishes, exacerbating the effects.
Working memory and hearing aids
Hearing loss taxes working memory, brings about stress, and hinders communication. But what about hearing aids? Hearing aids are supposed to enhance hearing, so in theory 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 men and women in their 50s and 60s with bilateral hearing loss who had never used hearing aids. They took an initial cognitive test that measured working memory, attention, and information processing speed, prior to ever wearing a pair of hearing aids.
Then, after wearing hearing aids for two weeks, the group retook the test. What DesJardins found was that the group participants showed considerable improvement in their cognitive ability, with greater short-term recollection and faster processing speed. The hearing aids had expanded their working memory, reduced the amount 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 elevated cognitive function, hearing aid users could find improvement in nearly every area of their lives. Better speech comprehension and memory can improve conversations, strengthen relationships, elevate learning, and supercharge productivity at work.
This experiment is one that you can test out for yourself. Our hearing aid trial period will allow 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?