How Hearing Aids Improve Working Memory and Speech Comprehension

Published by Dr. O'Boyle on

Group thinking, memory

Have you ever taken a course, or went to a lecture, where the content was delivered so rapidly or in so complicated a fashion that you learned almost nothing? If yes, your working memory was most likely overloaded beyond its total 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 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, additional water just flows out the edge.
That’s why, if you’re speaking to someone who’s preoccupied or focused on their cell phone, your words are just flowing out of their already filled working memory. So you have to repeat yourself, which they’ll comprehend only when they clear their cognitive cup, devoting the mental resources required to comprehend your message.

Working memory and hearing loss

So what does working memory have to do with hearing loss? In terms of speech comprehension, almost everything.
If you have hearing loss, particularly high-frequency hearing loss (the most typical), you likely have difficulty hearing the higher-pitched consonant sounds of speech. As a result, it’s easy to misinterpret what is said or to miss words completely.
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 data like context and visual signs.
This constant processing of incomplete information burdens your working memory beyond its capability. And to complicate things, as we age, the volume of our working memory is reduced, exacerbating the effects.

Working memory and hearing aids

Hearing loss burdens 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 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 a preliminary cognitive test that measured working memory, attention, and information processing speed, prior to ever putting on 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 exhibited significant improvement in their cognitive aptitude, with improved short-term recollection and faster processing speed. The hearing aids had broadened their working memory, decreased 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 observe enhancement in practically every area of their lives. Better speech comprehension and memory can improve conversations, bolster relationships, enhance learning, and boost 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 similar improvements in memory and speech comprehension.
Are you up for the challenge? Contact Hearing Associates, Inc at 818-727-7020.

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