Researchers at the famed 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 could get an overhaul based on their findings.
The enduring belief that voices are isolated by neural processing has been debunked by an MIT study. Isolating individual sound levels may actually be managed by a biochemical filter according to this study.
How Our Ability to Hear is Affected by Background Noise
While millions of individuals fight hearing loss, only a fraction of them try to deal with that hearing loss with the use of hearing aids.
Though a hearing aid can give a tremendous boost to one’s ability to hear, settings with a lot of background noise have typically been an issue for individuals who wear a hearing improvement device. A person’s ability to single out voices, for example, can be seriously limited in settings like a party or restaurant where there is a constant din of background noise.
Having a conversation with somebody in a crowded room can be stressful and annoying and people who cope with hearing loss know this all too well.
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 thought 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. 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 might be the most fascinating thing.
When vibration comes into the ear, the minute tectorial membrane controls how water moves in response using small pores as it rests on little hairs in the cochlea. It was observed that the amplification created by the membrane caused a different reaction to different tones.
The middle frequencies were found to have strong amplification and the tones at the lower and higher ends of the spectrum were less impacted.
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 recognition.
Hearing Aid Design of The Future
The basic principles of hearing aid design haven’t changed much over the years. Adjustments and fine-tuning have helped with some improvements, but most hearing aids are generally made up of microphones that pick up sounds and a loudspeaker that amplifies them. Regrettably, that’s where one of the design’s shortcomings becomes apparent.
All frequencies are increased with an amplification device and that includes background noise. Another MIT scientist has long believed tectorial membrane research could lead to new hearing aid designs that offer better speech recognition for wearers.
In theory, these new-and-improved hearing aids could functionally tune in to a specific frequency range, which would enable the user to hear isolated sounds such as a single voice. Only the desired frequencies would be increased with these hearing aids and everything else would be left alone.
Have Questions About Hearing Loss?
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