One of hearing loss’s most perplexing mysteries might have been solved by scientists from the famed Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and the future design of hearing aids might get an overhaul based on their findings.
The long standing idea that voices are isolated by neural processing has been debunked by an MIT study. Isolating individual levels of sound might actually be managed by a biochemical filter according to this study.
How Our Ability to Hear is Impacted by Background Noise
Only a small fraction of the millions of people who cope with hearing loss actually use hearing aids to deal with it.
Though a significant boost in one’s ability to hear can be the result of using a hearing aid, people who wear a hearing-improvement device have traditionally still had trouble in settings with a lot of background noise. For example, the constant buzz surrounding settings like restaurants and parties can wreak havoc on a person’s ability to single out a voice.
If you’re someone who suffers from hearing loss, you very likely understand how frustrating and upsetting it can be to have a one-on-one conversation with someone in a crowded room.
Scientists have been meticulously investigating hearing loss for decades. The way that sound waves move through the ear and how those waves are distinguished, due to this body of research, was believed to be well understood.
Scientists Discover The Tectorial Membrane
However, it was in 2007 that scientists discovered the tectorial membrane within the inner ear’s cochlea. You won’t see this microscopic membrane composed of a gel-like substance in any other parts of the body. What really intrigued scientists was how the membrane provides mechanical filtering that can decipher and delineate between sounds.
Minuscule in size, the tectorial membrane rests on delicate hairs inside the cochlea, with small pores that manage how water moves back and forth in reaction to vibrations. Researchers observed that different frequencies of sound reacted differently to the amplification produced by the membrane.
The frequencies at the highest and lowest range appeared to be less impacted by the amplification, but the study revealed strong amplification in the middle frequencies.
It’s that progress that leads some to believe MIT’s groundbreaking breakthrough could be the conduit to more effective hearing aids that ultimately allow for better single-voice identification.
Hearing Aid Design of The Future
The fundamental principles of hearing aid design haven’t changed very much over the years. A microphone to detect sound and a loudspeaker to amplify it are the general components of hearing aids which, besides a few technology tweaks, have remained the same. Regrettably, that’s where one of the design’s drawbacks becomes evident.
All frequencies are increased with an amplification device including background noise. Tectorial membrane research could, according to another MIT scientist, lead to new, innovative hearing aid designs which would offer better speech recognition.
The user of these new hearing aids could, theoretically, tune in to a specific voice as the hearing aid would be able to tune distinct frequencies. With this concept, the volume of those sounds would be the only sounds boosted to aid in reception.
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