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 may get an overhaul in line with their findings.
The enduring notion that voices are isolated by neural processing has been debunked by an MIT study. Tuning into individual levels of sound may actually be managed by a biochemical filter according to this study.
How Background Noise Impacts Our Ability to Hear
While millions of individuals fight hearing loss, only a fraction of them try to deal with that hearing loss using hearing aids.
Though a hearing aid can give a tremendous boost to one’s ability to hear, people who use a hearing-improvement device have traditionally still struggled in settings with copious amounts of background noise. For example, the steady buzz associated with settings like parties and restaurants can wreak havoc on a person’s ability to single out a voice.
Having a conversation with someone in a crowded room can be stressful and frustrating and individuals who cope with hearing loss know this all too well.
Scientists have been closely studying hearing loss for decades. The way that sound waves travel through the ear and how those waves are distinguished, due to this body of research, was believed to be well understood.
Scientists Identify The Tectorial Membrane
However, it was in 2007 that scientists discovered the tectorial membrane inside of the inner ear’s cochlea. The ear is the only place on the body you will find this gel-like membrane. The deciphering and delineation of sound is achieved by a mechanical filtering carried out by this membrane and that may be the most intriguing thing.
Minute in size, the tectorial membrane sits on tiny hairs within the cochlea, with small pores that control how water moves back and forth in response to vibrations. Researchers observed that different tones reacted differently to the amplification produced by the membrane.
The tones at the highest and lowest range appeared to be less impacted by the amplification, but the study revealed strong amplification in the middle frequencies.
Some scientists believe that more effective hearing aids that can better distinguish individual voices will be the result of this groundbreaking MIT study.
Hearing Aid Design of The Future
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. Unfortunately, that’s where one of the design’s drawbacks becomes clear.
All frequencies are boosted with an amplification device and that includes background noise. Another MIT researcher has long believed tectorial membrane research could result in new hearing aid designs that provide better speech recognition for users.
The user of these new hearing aids could, in theory, tune in to an individual voice as the hearing aid would be able to tune specific frequencies. Only the desired frequencies would be amplified with these hearing aids and everything else would be left alone.
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