untreated hearing loss shown to have negative impact on short-term memory
Brandeis University researchers recently
concluded that older adults with mild-to-moderate hearing loss expend so much
energy on hearing accurately that their ability to remember spoken language suffers
as a result.
This new study, published in the latest issue of Current Directions in Psychological
Science, showed that even when older adults could hear words well enough to repeat
them, their ability to memorize and remember these words was poorer in comparison
to other individuals of the same age with good hearing.
A group of older adults
with good hearing and a group with mild-to-moderate hearing loss participated in the
study. Each participant listened to a fifteen-word list and was asked to remember
only the last three words. All words were delivered at the same volume. Both groups
showed excellent recall for the final word, but the hearing-loss group displayed poorer
recall of the two words preceding it.
Because both groups could correctly report the
final word, it was reasoned that the hearing-loss group's failure to remember the
other two words was not a result of their inability to hear/correctly identify them.
In effect, the increased effort required to correctly hear the words diminished the
resources needed to memorize them.
"This study is a wake-up call to anyone who
works with older people, including health care professionals, to be especially sensitive
to how hearing loss can affect cognitive function," said Dr. Arthur Wingfield,
Professor of Neuroscience at the Volen National Center for Complex Systems at Brandeis
He suggested that individuals who interact with older people with some
hearing loss could modify how they speak by speaking clearly and pausing after clauses,
or chunks of meaning, not necessarily slowing down speech dramatically. This
would provide those individuals a larger window of time for which to cognitively process
and understand sizeable portions of information.