Researchers at the famous Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) may have cracked the code on one of hearing’s most mystifying mysteries, and the future design of hearing aids may get an overhaul in line with their findings.
The long standing idea that voices are singled out by neural processing has been debunked by an MIT study. According to the study, it may actually be a biochemical filter that enables us to tune in to specific sound levels.
How Background Noise Impacts Our Ability to Hear
Only a small fraction of the millions of people who suffer from hearing loss actually use hearing aids to deal with it.
Though a significant boost in one’s ability to hear can be the outcome of using a hearing aid, environments with a lot of background noise have typically been an issue for individuals who use a hearing improvement device. For example, the steady buzz surrounding settings like parties and restaurants can wreak havoc on a person’s ability to single out a voice.
If you’re a person who is afflicted with hearing loss, you very likely understand how frustrating and stressful it can be to have a one-on-one conversation with someone in a crowded room.
Scientists have been closely 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 Identify The Tectorial Membrane
However, it was in 2007 that scientists discovered the tectorial membrane inside of the inner ear’s cochlea. You won’t find this microscopic membrane composed of a gel-like material in any other parts of the body. The deciphering and delineation of sound is accomplished by a mechanical filtering carried out by this membrane and that may be the most intriguing thing.
When vibration enters the ear, the tiny tectorial membrane controls how water moves in reaction using small pores as it sits on little hairs in the cochlea. Researchers noted that different frequencies of sound reacted differently to the amplification made by the membrane.
The tones at the highest and lowest range seemed to be less impacted by the amplification, but the study revealed strong amplification among the middle tones.
It’s that progress that leads some scientists to believe MIT’s groundbreaking discovery could be the conduit to more effective hearing aids that ultimately enable better single-voice identification.
Hearing Aid Design of The Future
The basic principles of hearing aid design haven’t changed very much over the years. A microphone to pick up sound and a loudspeaker to amplify it are the basic elements of hearing aids which, besides a few technology tweaks, have remained the same. Regrettably, that’s where one of the design’s drawbacks becomes clear.
All frequencies are increased with an amplification device and that includes background noise. Tectorial membrane research could, according to another MIT scientist, lead to new, innovative hearing aid designs which would provide better speech recognition.
In theory, these new-and-improved hearing aids could functionally tune in to a specific frequency range, which would allow the user to hear isolated sounds such as a single voice. Only the desired frequencies would be amplified with these hearing aids and everything else would be left alone.
Have Questions About Hearing Loss?
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