One of hearing loss’s most perplexing mysteries might 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 long standing belief that voices are isolated by neural processing has been debunked by an MIT study. Isolating individual sound levels might actually be handled by a biochemical filter according to this study.
How Our Ability to Hear is Affected by Background Noise
Only a small fraction of the millions of individuals who cope with hearing loss actually use hearing aids to manage it.
Though a significant boost in one’s ability to hear can be the result of wearing a hearing aid, people who use a hearing-improvement device have commonly still struggled in environments with a lot of background noise. A person’s ability to discriminate voices, for instance, can be drastically reduced 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 upsetting and frustrating and people who suffer from hearing loss know this all too well.
Scientists have been closely studying hearing loss for decades. The way that sound waves move through the ear and how those waves are differentiated, due to this body of research, was believed to be well understood.
Scientists Discover The Tectorial Membrane
But the tectorial membrane wasn’t identified by scientists until 2007. The ear is the only place on the body you will see 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.
Minuscule in size, the tectorial membrane rests on little hairs inside the cochlea, with small pores that manage 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 middle tones were found to have strong amplification and the tones at the lower and higher ends of the spectrum were less impacted.
It’s that development that leads some to believe MIT’s groundbreaking breakthrough could be the conduit to more effective hearing aids that ultimately allow for better single-voice recognition.
The Future of Hearing Aid Design
The basic principles of hearing aid design haven’t changed much over the years. A microphone to detect sound and a loudspeaker to amplify it are the basic components of hearing aids which, besides a few technology tweaks, have remained unchanged. Regrettably, that’s where one of the design’s shortcomings becomes apparent.
All frequencies are boosted with an amplification device including background noise. Another MIT scientist has long believed tectorial membrane exploration could result in new hearing aid designs that offer better speech recognition for users.
In theory, these new-and-improved hearing aids could functionally tune in to a specific frequency range, which would enable the wearer to hear isolated sounds such as a single voice. With this design, the volume of those sounds would be the only sounds increased to aid in reception.
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