One of hearing loss’s most perplexing mysteries might have been solved by scientists from the famous Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and the revelation could result in the overhauling of the design of future hearing aids.
The enduring notion that voices are isolated by neural processing has been debunked by an MIT study. Isolating specific sound levels may actually be handled by a biochemical filter according to this study.
How Background Noise Effects Our Ability to Hear
Only a small fraction of the millions of individuals who cope with hearing loss actually use hearing aids to manage it.
Even though a hearing aid can provide a significant boost to one’s ability to hear, environments with a lot of background noise have traditionally been an issue for people who use a hearing improvement device. A person’s ability to single out voices, for example, can be severely reduced in settings like a party or restaurant where there is a steady din of background noise.
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.
Scientists have been meticulously studying hearing loss for decades. As a result of those efforts, the way that sound waves travel throughout the inner ear, and how the ear distinguishes different frequencies of sounds, was thought to be well-understood.
Scientists Identify The Tectorial Membrane
However, it was in 2007 that scientists discovered the tectorial membrane within the inner ear’s cochlea. The ear is the only place on the body you will see this gel-like membrane. What really intrigued scientists was how the membrane provides mechanical filtering that can decipher and delineate between sounds.
When vibration comes into the ear, the tiny tectorial membrane manages how water moves in response using small pores as it sits on little hairs in the cochlea. Researchers noted that different frequencies of sound reacted differently to the amplification produced by the membrane.
The tones at the highest and lowest range appeared to be less impacted by the amplification, but the study revealed strong amplification among the middle tones.
Some scientists think 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
For years, the basic design concepts of hearing aids have remained fairly unchanged. Tweaks and fine-tuning have helped with some enhancements, but the majority of hearing aids are essentially comprised of microphones which pick up sounds and a loudspeaker that amplifies them. Unfortunately, that’s where one of the design’s shortcomings becomes evident.
All frequencies are boosted with an amplification device and that includes 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.
In theory, these new-and-improved hearing aids could functionally tune in to a specific frequency range, which would permit the wearer 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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