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 could get an overhaul based on their findings.
The enduring idea that voices are isolated by neural processing has been debunked by an MIT study. Isolating specific sound levels might actually be managed by a biochemical filter according to this study.
How Our Ability to Hear is Impacted by Background Noise
Only a small portion of the millions of individuals who cope with hearing loss actually use hearing aids to deal with it.
Though a major boost in one’s ability to hear can be the result 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 instance, the continuous buzz associated with settings like parties and restaurants can wreak havoc on a person’s ability to discriminate a voice.
Having a conversation with somebody in a crowded room can be upsetting and annoying and individuals who suffer from hearing loss know this all too well.
For decades scientists have been investigating hearing loss. 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.
The Tectorial Membrane is Discovered
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.
Minute in size, the tectorial membrane rests on tiny hairs within the cochlea, with small pores that control how water moves back and forth in reaction to vibrations. It was observed that the amplification created by the membrane caused a different reaction to different frequencies of sound.
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.
Some scientists think 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
The fundamental principles of hearing aid design haven’t changed much over the years. Tweaks and fine-tuning have helped with some enhancements, but most hearing aids are generally comprised of microphones that pick up sounds and a loudspeaker that amplifies them. This is, unfortunately, where the drawback of this design becomes apparent.
All frequencies are boosted with an amplification device including background noise. Another MIT researcher has long thought tectorial membrane research could lead to new hearing aid designs that offer better speech recognition for wearers.
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 distinct frequencies. With this concept, the volume of those sounds would be the only sounds boosted to aid in reception.
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