Researchers at the famous Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) might have cracked the code on one of hearing’s most bewildering mysteries, and the future design of hearing aids could get an overhaul in line with their findings.
Results from an MIT study debunked the notion that neural processing is what allows us to pick out voices. Tuning into individual levels of sound may actually be managed by a biochemical filter according to this study.
How Our Ability to Hear is Impacted 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 using a hearing aid, environments with lots of background noise have traditionally been an issue for individuals who wear a hearing improvement device. A person’s ability to discriminate voices, for example, can be seriously reduced in settings like a party or restaurant where there is a steady din of background noise.
Having a discussion with somebody in a crowded room can be stressful and frustrating and individuals who deal with 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 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. You won’t find this microscopic membrane made of a gel-like substance 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 might be the most fascinating thing.
When vibration enters the ear, the minute tectorial membrane manages how water moves in reaction using small pores as it rests on little hairs in the cochlea. It was noted that the amplification produced by the membrane caused a different reaction to different tones.
The tones at the highest and lowest end of the spectrum appeared to be less impacted by the amplification, but the study revealed strong amplification in 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
For years, the basic design principles of hearing aids have remained relatively unchanged. Adjustments 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, regrettably, where the drawback of this design becomes obvious.
Amplifiers, typically, are unable to differentiate between different frequencies of sounds, because of this, the ear gets increased levels of all sounds, 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 users.
In theory, these new-and-improved hearing aids could functionally tune to a specific frequency range, which would permit the user to hear isolated sounds like 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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