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Front Psychol. 2015 Dec 16;6:1894. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01894. eCollection 2015.

Working Memory and Hearing Aid Processing: Literature Findings, Future Directions, and Clinical Applications.

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Communication Sciences and Disorders, Knowles Hearing Center, Northwestern University, Evanston IL, USA.
Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences, University of Colorado Boulder, Boulder CO, USA.
Medizinische Physik and Cluster of Excellence Hearing4all, Carl von Ossietzky University of Oldenburg Oldenburg, Germany.


Working memory-the ability to process and store information-has been identified as an important aspect of speech perception in difficult listening environments. Working memory can be envisioned as a limited-capacity system which is engaged when an input signal cannot be readily matched to a stored representation or template. This "mismatch" is expected to occur more frequently when the signal is degraded. Because working memory capacity varies among individuals, those with smaller capacity are expected to demonstrate poorer speech understanding when speech is degraded, such as in background noise. However, it is less clear whether (and how) working memory should influence practical decisions, such as hearing treatment. Here, we consider the relationship between working memory capacity and response to specific hearing aid processing strategies. Three types of signal processing are considered, each of which will alter the acoustic signal: fast-acting wide-dynamic range compression, which smooths the amplitude envelope of the input signal; digital noise reduction, which may inadvertently remove speech signal components as it suppresses noise; and frequency compression, which alters the relationship between spectral peaks. For fast-acting wide-dynamic range compression, a growing body of data suggests that individuals with smaller working memory capacity may be more susceptible to such signal alterations, and may receive greater amplification benefit with "low alteration" processing. While the evidence for a relationship between wide-dynamic range compression and working memory appears robust, the effects of working memory on perceptual response to other forms of hearing aid signal processing are less clear cut. We conclude our review with a discussion of the opportunities (and challenges) in translating information on individual working memory into clinical treatment, including clinically feasible measures of working memory.


digital noise reduction; frequency compression; hearing aid; reading span; wide-dynamic range compression; working memory capacity

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