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 might 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 levels of sound may actually be handled 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 suffer from hearing loss actually use hearing aids to deal with it.
Though a major boost in one’s ability to hear can be the outcome of using a hearing aid, people that use a hearing-improvement device have typically still had trouble in environments with a lot of background noise. A person’s ability to single out voices, for example, can be seriously limited in settings like a party or restaurant where there is a steady din of background noise.
Having a discussion with someone in a crowded room can be stressful and annoying and individuals who deal with hearing loss know this all too well.
Scientists have been meticulously 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.
The Tectorial Membrane is Identified
But the tectorial membrane wasn’t discovered by scientists until 2007. The ear is the only place on the body you will find this gel-like membrane. The deciphering and delineation of sound is achieved by a mechanical filtering performed by this membrane and that may be the most fascinating thing.
Minuscule in size, the tectorial membrane sits on little hairs inside the cochlea, with small pores that manage how water moves back and forth in reaction to vibrations. It was noted that the amplification created by the membrane caused a different reaction to different frequencies of sound.
The middle frequencies were shown to have strong amplification and the frequencies at the lower and higher ends of the spectrum were less impacted.
Some scientists believe 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
The fundamental principles of hearing aid design haven’t changed very 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 the same. Regrettably, that’s where one of the design’s shortcomings becomes evident.
All frequencies are boosted with an amplification device and that includes background noise. Tectorial membrane research could, according to another MIT researcher, result in new, innovative hearing aid designs which would offer better speech recognition.
Theoretically, these new-and-improved hearing aids could functionally tune to a distinct frequency range, which would allow the wearer to hear isolated sounds such as a single voice. With this concept, the volume of those sounds would be the only sounds amplified to aid in reception.
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