What do we talk about when we talk about hearing loss? Mostly ear damage prevention, the effectiveness of hearing aids and the general effects of hearing loss on our everyday lives. Often we do not make space to talk about the role of the brain in hearing loss. The human brain is incredible, complicated, and heavily intertwined in the processes that work together to create a functioning hearing system. A vital part of the system in the brain that enables us to hear is working memory — but what is working memory?
Director and Research Manager Jerker Rönnberg states that there are three types of memory. The first is Episodic Long-Term Memory (ELTM) — this is our everyday memory that we use and draw from our own personal experiences. We reference events that occur in a certain time, place, space, with specific emotions or context. The next type of memory is Semantic Long-Term Memory (SLTM) — this category of memory is the brain’s personal memory, it is the memory that uses general knowledge including vocabulary, grammar and language. The last categorization is Working Memory (WM) which is the kind that holds and manipulates memory in the mind. Working Memory is in charge of the present — this means it can store, inhibit or ignore what is not relevant in the current moment. This is the difference between listening and hearing. The Working Memory Capacity (WMC) our brains are capable of predicts speech with low contextual support. When we go out to dinner at noisy restaurants the Working Memory in our brains help us make out what others around are saying. This is where hearing aids are particularly important.
Our ears naturally become damaged from various elements of day-to-day living and when ear function decreases, so does our Working Memory. Hearing damage creates an environment where less information comes into the brain — this means that the brain’s ability to hold, process and determine what to do with incoming signals is severely impacted. Rönnberg discusses the effects of hearing deterioration on long-term memory and the impact is nothing small. Hearing loss has a domino effect — damaged hearing means less information to the brain, this means an impacted Working Memory, this prevents the processing of new information, and that in turn diminishes the storage of information in the long-term memory.
What does this all mean? It means we need to keep our hearing health in check in order to maintain Working Memory, Episodic Long-Term Memory, and Semantic Long-Term Memory. Hearing technology becomes more and more advanced as the years go by — these instruments can now be programmed to adjust to particular environments such as noisy dinner parties, windy days at the golf course, or quiet conversations with a loved one. If the level of information coming into the brain can be improved it will have a direct effect on all types of memory! So do not wait another minute to get your hearing status checked. It is not only about day-to-day hearing issues — it’s about preserving memory for the future and improving overall health. Call us today to schedule an appointment to get your hearing checked — do it for you, your family and all your important relationships!