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How Hearing Aids Enhance Working Memory and Speech Comprehension

April 21, 2016

Group thinking, memory

Have you ever taken a class, or went to a lecture, where the ideas were delivered so quickly or in so complicated a fashion that you learned next to nothing? If so, your working memory was probably overloaded beyond its total capacity.

The limits of working memory

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 last, 3) either disposed of or stored in long-term memory.

The trouble is, there is a limit to the amount of information your working memory can hold. Picture your working memory as an empty glass: you can fill it with water, but once full, additional water just flows out the side.

That’s why, if you’re talking to someone who’s distracted or on their smartphone, 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 grasp your message.

Hearing loss and working memory

So what does this have to do with hearing loss? In terms of speech comprehension, just about everything.

If you have hearing loss, specifically high-frequency hearing loss (the most typical), you likely have difficulties hearing the higher-pitched consonant sounds of speech. As a result, it’s easy to misunderstand what is said or to miss out on 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 comprehend speech using supplementary data like context and visual signs.

This continual processing of incomplete information burdens your working memory past its potential. And to complicate matters, as we grow older, the volume of our working memory declines, exacerbating the effects.

Working memory and hearing aids

Hearing loss burdens working memory, creates stress, and impedes communication. But what about hearing aids? Hearing aids are intended 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 worn 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.

Then, after utilizing hearing aids for two weeks, the group retook the test. What DesJardins found was that the group participants exhibited considerable improvement in their cognitive ability, with better short-term recollection and faster processing speed. The hearing aids had broadened their working memory, reduced the amount of information tied 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 find enhancement in almost every area of their lives. Better speech comprehension and memory can improve conversations, bolster relationships, enhance learning, and supercharge productivity at work.

This experiment is one that you can try out for yourself. Our hearing aid trial period will enable 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?

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