One of hearing loss’s most perplexing mysteries may have been solved by scientists from the famous Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and the future design of hearing aids may get an overhaul based on their findings.
The enduring belief that voices are singled out by neural processing has been debunked by an MIT study. Tuning into specific levels of sound may actually be managed by a biochemical filter according to this study.
How Background Noise Impacts Our Ability to Hear
Only a small portion of the millions of individuals who suffer from hearing loss actually use hearing aids to deal with it.
Even though a hearing aid can provide a tremendous boost to one’s ability to hear, environments with a lot of background noise have typically been a problem for people who wear a hearing improvement device. A person’s ability to single out voices, for example, can be severely reduced in settings like a party or restaurant where there is a constant din of background noise.
Having a discussion with someone in a crowded room can be stressful and annoying and people who suffer from hearing loss know this all too well.
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.
The Tectorial Membrane is Discovered
But the tectorial membrane wasn’t discovered by scientists until 2007. You won’t see 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 carried out 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. Researchers noticed that different frequencies of sound 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 found strong amplification in the middle tones.
Some scientists think that more effective hearing aids that can better identify individual voices will be the outcome of this groundbreaking MIT study.
Hearing Aid Design of The Future
For years, the basic design principles of hearing aids have remained relatively unchanged. A microphone to pick up sound and a loudspeaker to amplify it are the general elements of hearing aids which, besides a few technology tweaks, have remained the same. This is, regrettably, where the drawback of this design becomes apparent.
Amplifiers, normally, are not able to differentiate between different frequencies of sounds, which means the ear receives boosted levels of all sounds, that includes background noise. Another MIT scientist has long thought tectorial membrane research could result in new hearing aid designs that provide better speech recognition for users.
Theoretically, these new-and-improved hearing aids could functionally tune to a distinct frequency range, which would permit the user to hear isolated sounds like a single voice. Only the desired frequencies would be increased with these hearing aids and everything else would be left alone.
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