Group thinking, memory

Have you ever taken a course, or attended a lecture, where the information was delivered so quickly or in so complex a fashion that you learned practically nothing? If so, your working memory was most likely overwhelmed beyond its total capacity.

Working memory and its limits

All of us process information in three steps: 1) sensory information is received, where it is 2) either disregarded or temporarily retained in working memory, and finally, 3) either disposed of or stored in long-term memory.

The trouble is, there is a limitation to the quantity of information your working memory can hold. Think of your working memory as an empty cup: you can fill it with water, but after it’s full, extra water just pours out the edge.

That’s why, if you’re speaking to someone who’s distracted or on their smartphone, your words are simply pouring 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 necessary to comprehend your speech.

Working memory and hearing loss

So what does working memory have to do with hearing loss? In relation to speech comprehension, almost everything.

If you have hearing loss, particularly high-frequency hearing loss (the most typical), you likely have problems hearing the higher-pitched consonant sounds of speech. Consequently, it’s easy to misunderstand what is said or to miss out on words entirely.

However that’s not all. In combination with not hearing some spoken words, you’re also taxing your working memory as you try to perceive speech using supplementary information like context and visual signs.

This continuous processing of incomplete information burdens your working memory past its capacity. And to make things worse, as we age, the capacity of our working memory declines, exacerbating the consequences.

Working memory and hearing aids

Hearing loss taxes working memory, creates stress, and obstructs 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 intending to find out.

DesJardins studied a group of men and women in their 50s and 60s with two-sided hearing loss who had never used 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 utilizing hearing aids for two weeks, the group retook the test. What DesJardins found was that the group participants demonstrated appreciable enhancement in their cognitive ability, with better short-term recollection and quicker 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 improved cognitive function, hearing aid users could find enhancement in almost every area of their lives. Better speech comprehension and memory can improve conversations, strengthen relationships, elevate learning, and supercharge efficiency at work.

This experiment is one that you can test out for yourself. Our hearing aid trial period will allow you to carry out your own no-risk experiment to see if you can achieve similar improvements in memory and speech comprehension.

Are you up for the challenge?