One of hearing loss’s most perplexing mysteries might have been solved by scientists from the famous Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and the future design of hearing aids might 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. Isolating individual sound levels might actually be managed by a biochemical filter according to this study.
How Background Noise Impacts Our Ability to Hear
While millions of people battle hearing loss, only a fraction of them attempt to combat that hearing loss with the use of hearing aids.
Though a significant boost in one’s ability to hear can be the outcome of wearing a hearing aid, environments with lots of background noise have traditionally been an issue for people who use a hearing improvement device. For example, the steady buzz surrounding settings like parties and restaurants can wreak havoc on a person’s ability to single out a voice.
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 closely studying hearing loss for decades. The way that sound waves move 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 identified the tectorial membrane inside of 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 carried out by this membrane and that may be the most fascinating thing.
When vibration comes into the ear, the minute tectorial membrane manages how water moves in response 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 tones at the highest and lowest end of the spectrum appeared to be less affected by the amplification, but the study revealed strong amplification in the middle frequencies.
It’s that development that leads some to believe MIT’s groundbreaking breakthrough could be the conduit to more effective hearing aids that ultimately allow for better single-voice identification.
Hearing Aid Design of The Future
For years, the general design concepts of hearing aids have remained fairly unchanged. A microphone to pick up sound and a loudspeaker to amplify it are the general elements 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, usually, are not able to differentiate between different frequencies of sounds, because of this, the ear receives boosted levels of all sounds, including background noise. Tectorial membrane research could, according to another MIT researcher, result in new, state-of-the-art hearing aid designs which would provide better speech recognition.
The user of these new hearing aids could, theoretically, tune in to an individual voice as the hearing aid would be able to tune specific frequencies. With this concept, the volume of those sounds would be the only sounds boosted to aid in reception.
Have Questions About Hearing Loss?
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