University Professor Demonstrates Hearing Aids Improve Memory and Speech

Group thinking, memory

Have you ever taken a course, or attended a lecture, where the content was delivered so rapidly or in so complex a manner that you learned practically nothing? If yes, your working memory was most likely overwhelmed past its total capacity.

Working memory and its limitations

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 problem is, there is a limit to the volume of information your working memory can hold. Think of your working memory as an empty container: you can fill it with water, but once full, additional water just pours out the side.

That’s why, if you’re speaking to someone who’s preoccupied 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 comprehend only when they empty their cognitive cup, devoting the mental resources necessary to comprehend your message.

The impact of hearing loss on working memory

So what does this have to do with hearing loss? When it comes to speech comprehension, almost everything.

If you have hearing loss, in particular high-frequency hearing loss (the most common), 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 out on words entirely.

But that’s not all. In combination 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 cues.

This constant processing of incomplete information burdens your working memory beyond its capability. And to complicate matters, as we grow older, the capacity of our working memory decreases, exacerbating the effects.

Working memory and hearing aids

Hearing loss taxes working memory, creates stress, and hinders 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 exactly 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 bilateral hearing loss who had never utilized hearing aids. They took an initial cognitive test that measured working memory, attention, and processing speed, prior to ever wearing 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 appreciable improvement in their cognitive aptitude, with greater short-term recollection and quicker processing speed. The hearing aids had expanded their working memory, decreased 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 elevated cognitive function, hearing aid users could observe enhancement in nearly every area of their lives. Better speech comprehension and memory can improve conversations, strengthen relationships, enhance learning, and augment productivity at work.

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

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