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 could 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 specific sound levels might 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 manage it.
Though a major boost in one’s ability to hear can be the result of wearing a hearing aid, environments with a lot of background noise have traditionally been an issue for individuals who wear a hearing improvement device. For example, the constant buzz surrounding settings like restaurants and parties can wreak havoc on a person’s ability to discriminate a voice.
If you’re a person who suffers from hearing loss, you most likely know how frustrating and stressful it can be to have a personal conversation with somebody in a crowded room.
Scientists have been meticulously investigating 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 Discover The Tectorial Membrane
However, it was in 2007 that scientists identified the tectorial membrane within the inner ear’s cochlea. You won’t see this microscopic membrane composed of a gel-like substance in any other parts of the body. What really fascinated scientists was how the membrane provides mechanical filtering that can decipher and delineate between sounds.
When vibration enters the ear, the tiny tectorial membrane manages how water moves in response using small pores as it sits 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 end of the spectrum appeared to be less impacted by the amplification, but the study found strong amplification in the middle frequencies.
Some scientists believe that more effective hearing aids that can better distinguish individual voices will be the result of this groundbreaking MIT study.
The Future of Hearing Aid Design
For years, the basic design principles of hearing aids have remained relatively 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 obvious.
Amplifiers, normally, are not able to differentiate between different levels of sounds, which means the ear receives increased levels of all sounds, including background noise. Another MIT scientist has long thought tectorial membrane research could lead to new hearing aid designs that offer better speech recognition for users.
The user of these new hearing aids could, theoretically, tune in to a specific voice as the hearing aid would be able to tune specific frequencies. Only the chosen frequencies would be boosted with these hearing aids and everything else would be left alone.
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