One of hearing loss’s most perplexing mysteries may have been solved by scientists from the famed Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and the future design of hearing aids might get an overhaul in line with their findings.
The long standing belief that voices are isolated by neural processing has been debunked by an MIT study. According to the study, it might actually be a biochemical filter that enables us to tune in to individual levels of sound.
How Our Ability to Hear is Impacted by Background Noise
While millions of individuals fight hearing loss, only a fraction of them attempt to combat that hearing loss with the use of hearing aids.
Even though a hearing aid can give a tremendous boost to one’s ability to hear, those who use a hearing-improvement device have traditionally still struggled in environments with a lot of background noise. A person’s ability to discriminate voices, for instance, can be drastically reduced in settings like a party or restaurant where there is a constant din of background noise.
If you’re someone who suffers from hearing loss, you very likely recognize how annoying and stressful it can be to have a personal conversation with someone in a crowded room.
For decades scientists have been investigating hearing loss. Due to those efforts, the way that sound waves travel throughout the inner ear, and how the ear distinguishes different frequencies of sounds, was thought to be well-understood.
Scientists Discover The Tectorial Membrane
However, it was in 2007 that scientists identified the tectorial membrane within the inner ear’s cochlea. You won’t find this microscopic membrane made of a gel-like material in any other parts of the body. The deciphering and delineation of sound is achieved by a mechanical filtering performed by this membrane and that might be the most fascinating thing.
When vibration comes into the ear, the tiny tectorial membrane manages how water moves in reaction using small pores as it sits on little hairs in the cochlea. It was observed that the amplification created by the membrane caused a different reaction to different tones.
The tones at the highest and lowest range seemed to be less impacted by the amplification, but the study found strong amplification among the middle frequencies.
It’s that progress that leads some to believe MIT’s groundbreaking discovery could be the conduit to more effective hearing aids that ultimately allow for better single-voice recognition.
The Future of Hearing Aid Design
For years, the general design principles of hearing aids have remained fairly unchanged. A microphone to pick up sound and a loudspeaker to amplify it are the basic components of hearing aids which, besides a few technology tweaks, have remained the same. Regrettably, that’s where one of the design’s shortcomings becomes evident.
Amplifiers, normally, are unable to discern between different frequencies of sounds, which means the ear gets boosted levels of all sounds, that includes background noise. Another MIT scientist has long believed tectorial membrane research could lead to new hearing aid designs that provide better speech recognition for wearers.
Theoretically, these new-and-improved hearing aids could functionally tune in to a specific frequency range, which would enable the user to hear isolated sounds like a single voice. Only the chosen frequencies would be increased with these hearing aids and everything else would be left alone.
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