What is the connection between hearing loss, memory, and cognition?
Beck and Flexer (2011) coined “Listening Is Where Hearing Meets Brain” to emphasize the fact that attributing meaning to sound (i.e., listening) is the more important and significant goal from the patient’s perspective, than simply hearing or perceiving sounds. Indeed, patients want to be able to make sense of sound, not just hear it.
What do those with hearing loss feel about what is happening?
I just can’t remember things like I used to.
It’s so hard for me to be a student now with my hearing loss. I don’t learn as easily as I did before.
I feel like I’m not as smart as I use to be.
Students in my Speechreading class have long complained about having more trouble remembering things than they use to have: names, details from conversations, information from classes. It makes sense to me. I explain to them that the more mental resources used to merely perceive and comprehend what is being said, the less resources available to process and remember. If the speech is degraded, their brain is working harder to merely process the sounds. The information cannot be accessed by the sensory memory, which in turn complicates the processing that would occur in the working memory. When this occurs, what happens to comprehension, memory and the effort put forth?
… an effortfulness hypothesis: the notion that the extra effort that a hearing-impaired listener must expend to achieve perceptual success comes at the cost of processing resources that might otherwise be available for encoding the speech content in memory.
What can those with hearing loss (and those who communicate with them) do to reduce the drain on the resources? Hearing aids can help. Effective communication is also very beneficial. Encouraging communication partners to speak more clearly, a little more slowly, and just a little more loudly. If the topic is stated before the conversation starts, that’s very useful! Anything that can provide a more favourable signal-to-noise ratio also helps: reduce background noise, reduce reverberation, use assistive listening technology, get closer to what you want to hear and further from distracting noise sources.
Beck and Clark (2009) noted the relationship between audition and cognition is interdependent and symbiotic, stating “audition matters more as cognition declines, and cognition matters more as audition declines.”
What does this mean to adult learners who have hearing loss? My responsibilities as an instructor include:
- ensuring potential students are comfortable and have any questions answered before the course begins
- being an effective communicator throughout
- encouraging and supporting all students to be effective communicators
- providing a hearing-accessible teaching environment
- ensuring the content is relevant and practical
- arranging learning opportunities that do not rely only on audition, if possible, to reduce the effort to comprehend (less lecture, more activities)
All that I am discovering about adult learning intertwines and supports my role as a facilitator in my classroom. The characteristics of adult learners, how they learn, what motivates them, memory and cognition- this is information I need to keep in mind each time I prepare for and step into my classroom. We all benefit from this knowledge.