Hearing Devices Enhance Short-Term Memory

Hearing Devices Enhance Short-Term Memory

The brain initially processes information in stages that are collective known as the working memory or short-term memory. The first stage involves sensory input of information, which leads to the second step where this information is either retained momentarily or discarded. The final step involves the storage of the retained information in the long-term memory or permanent removal of the information.

Working memory has limited capacity which is why we often bypass several bits of information if we do not focus on them or if they do not register properly during the input process. Once the working memory is full, no more information can be stored in it which is why people with hearing loss have difficulty processing auditory information.

The strain required to focus on auditory information often leads to an overwhelmed working memory of those with hearing loss. Furthermore, those with hearing loss in the higher-frequency sounds can often entirely miss out on some auditory information which does not get fed into the working memory at all. With age, the capacity of the working memory deteriorates. This is why hearing loss can affect people more adversely with age.

A study conducted at the University of Texas El Paso by Dr. Jamie Desjardins, assistant professor in the Speech-Language Pathology Program explored how hearing aids assisted in improvement of working memory in those with hearing loss. The participant group comprised of dual-sided hearing impaired individuals aged between their 50s and 60s who did not use hearing aids. Their cognitive abilities were assessed using tests measuring attention, working memory, and their speed of processing prior to using hearing aids. The participants were then requested to wear hearing aids and their same cognitive abilities were retested after a two week period.

The results of the above study indicated that the participants wearing hearing aids had an improved working memory recollection and a faster processing speed. The use of hearing aids appeared to free up their short-term memory, thereby reducing the amount of unnecessary information stored in the working memory which enabled them to quicken their ability to process sensory information.

Desjardins’ study suggests that hearing aid users can benefit from a significant improvement in their working memory by utilizing less information that would provide a broader working memory capacity and faster processing time. This means that those with hearing loss can use hearing aids to help enhance their ability to understand speech and enhance their memory. This would help improve the quality of their communication and enhance their personal relationships and ability to learn. Hearing aid use can therefore also be used to enhance the quality of one’s life personally and professionally.