University Professor Demonstrates Hearing Aids Improve Memory and Speech
Have you ever taken a course, or went to a lecture, where the ideas were presented so quickly or in so complicated a fashion that you learned next to nothing? If so, your working memory was probably overloaded past its capacity.
The limits of working memory
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 finally, 3) either discarded or stored in long-term memory.
The problem is, there is a limit to the amount of information your working memory can hold. Imagine your working memory as an empty glass: you can fill it with water, but once full, extra water just pours out the side.
That’s why, if you’re talking to someone who’s distracted or on their cell phone, your words are just pouring out of their already occupied working memory. So you have to repeat yourself, which they’ll understand only when they empty their cognitive cup, devoting the mental resources necessary to fully grasp your message.
Working memory and hearing loss
So what does this have to do with hearing loss? In relation to speech comprehension, almost everything.
If you have hearing loss, in particular high-frequency hearing loss (the most common), you likely have difficulties hearing the higher-pitched consonant sounds of speech. Consequently, it’s easy to misinterpret what is said or to miss out on words entirely.
But that’s not all. Along with not hearing some spoken words, you’re also taxing your working memory as you attempt to perceive speech using additional information like context and visual signs.
This persistent processing of incomplete information burdens your working memory beyond its potential. And to complicate matters, as we age, the volume of our working memory diminishes, exacerbating the consequences.
Working memory and hearing aids
Hearing loss burdens working memory, creates 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 individuals in their 50s and 60s with bilateral hearing loss who had never utilized 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 using hearing aids for two weeks, the group retook the test. What DesJardins found was that the group participants demonstrated significant enhancement in their cognitive aptitude, with improved short-term recall 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 accelerate the speed at which they processed information.
The implications of the study are wide-ranging. With improved cognitive function, hearing aid users could see enhancement in nearly every area of their lives. Better speech comprehension and memory can improve conversations, strengthen relationships, elevate learning, and augment productivity at work.
This experiment is one that you can test out for yourself. Our hearing aid trial period will permit 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 challenge?