What is Cognitive Overload?
In cognitive psychology, cognitive overload refers to the amount of mental effort that the working memory is required to put forth. The working memory is a cognitive system with a limited capacity and is responsible for holding information temporarily to properly process it.
Cognitive overload occurs when the brain attempts to take in and process too much information at one time. This can affect short-term memory and the speed at which your brain processes information. Cognitive overload can be mentally taxing, leaving people feeling exhausted and overwhelmed. Cognitive overload can happen to anybody, at any age, if their brain is overstimulated and taking in too much information at once.
Cognitive Overload and Hearing
Hearing impaired people have to work harder to hear what is going on around them. For example, if a person with hearing impairment is working without a hearing device, they can focus so much on listening that the actual information may not be properly processed.
This means that a person with hearing loss may hear the words, but not actually process or remember what you said. Essentially, the brain is so preoccupied with translating the noise into words, that it has no processing power left to store memory. It may take someone who is hearing impaired a little extra time to process everything that is being said, and to recover from cognitive overload. It’s important to be patient in these scenarios.
Take this study done by Jamie Desjardins, Ph.D. from The University of Texas at El Paso. Desjardins studied a group of people aged 50 to 60 years old with bilateral hearing loss who had never used hearing devices. After two weeks of using hearing devices, these people tested higher for recalling words in working memory and selective attention tests.
Hearing Loss and Associated Risk of Dementia
In a 2011 study, Dr. Frank Lin found a strong association between hearing loss and dementia. The researchers studied 639 people ranging in age from 36 to 90 at the beginning of the study. None of the subjects had cognitive impairment at the beginning of the study, which followed the subjects for 18 years. Some had hearing loss.
Compared to subjects with normal hearing, those with mild, moderate and severe hearing loss, respectively, had a 2-, 3-, and 5-fold increased risk of developing dementia over the course of the study. That means that the worse the hearing loss, the higher the risk of developing dementia increases. It is important to note if a hearing impaired person starts suffering from symptoms of dementia under a short period of time, as it could be a sign that something is wrong.
Dr. Lin found that there are multiple explanations for the increased risk. One is that people with hearing impairment are more likely to experience social isolation, which is a known risk factor for dementia. Another possible explanation is cognitive overload. This means that cognitive overload, by increasing the rate of loss of thinking and memory abilities, can contribute to dementia development.
How to Improve Brain Function and Avoid Cognitive Overload
Hearing loss is extremely common, affecting about 9 million Americans aged over 65, and 10 million Americans aged 45 to 64. However, only about 20 percent of people who need hearing devices actually wear them. This put patients more at risk for cognitive overload. Hearing devices are proven to reduce cognitive overload in patients with hearing loss. When hearing devices such as hearing aids are worn and used properly, the risk of cognitive overload is decreased.
If you would like to know more about cognitive overload, what can be done about it, and how to prevent it from happening, please contact us at one of our many Long Island locations. If you are interested in hearing devices and would like to find the tools that best suit you, our Doctors of Audiology at SightMD are here to help! Contact us today by calling or conveniently scheduling your appointment online.