One of hearing loss’s most puzzling 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 in line with their findings.
The enduring idea that voices are singled out by neural processing has been debunked by an MIT study. According to the study, it may actually be a biochemical filter that allows us to tune in to individual levels of sound.
How Background Noise Effects Our Ability to Hear
While millions of people battle hearing loss, only a fraction of them try to combat that hearing loss with the use of hearing aids.
Though a major boost in one’s ability to hear can be the result of using a hearing aid, settings with a lot of background noise have typically been an issue for people who wear a hearing improvement device. For instance, the constant buzz associated with settings like restaurants and parties can wreak havoc on a person’s ability to single out a voice.
Having a discussion with someone in a crowded room can be upsetting and annoying and people who cope with hearing loss know this all too well.
For decades scientists have been investigating hearing loss. The way that sound waves move 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 discovered 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 intriguing thing.
When vibration enters the ear, the tiny tectorial membrane manages how water moves in reaction 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 frequencies of sound.
The frequencies at the highest and lowest range seemed to be less affected by the amplification, but the study found strong amplification among the middle tones.
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
For years, the basic design concepts of hearing aids have remained fairly unchanged. 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 the same. This is, regrettably, where the shortcoming of this design becomes apparent.
Amplifiers, typically, are not able to discern between different levels of sounds, because of this, the ear gets increased levels of all sounds, including background noise. Tectorial membrane research could, according to another MIT researcher, lead to new, innovative hearing aid designs which would provide better speech recognition.
The user of these new hearing aids could, in theory, tune in to a specific voice as the hearing aid would be able to tune distinct frequencies. Only the chosen frequencies would be boosted with these hearing aids and everything else would be left alone.
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