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 could get an overhaul based on their findings.
The enduring idea that voices are isolated 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 specific sound levels.
How Our Ability to Hear is Impacted by Background Noise
Only a small portion of the millions of people who cope with hearing loss actually use hearing aids to manage it.
Though a significant boost in one’s ability to hear can be the result of wearing a hearing aid, people who wear a hearing-improvement device have commonly still struggled in settings with a lot of background noise. A person’s ability to discriminate voices, for instance, can be severely limited in settings like a party or restaurant where there is a continuous din of background noise.
If you’re a person who suffers from hearing loss, you most likely understand how annoying and upsetting it can be to have a personal conversation with somebody in a crowded room.
Scientists have been closely investigating 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 thought to be well understood.
The Tectorial Membrane is Discovered
However, it was in 2007 that scientists discovered the tectorial membrane inside of the inner ear’s cochlea. The ear is the only place on the body you will see this gel-like membrane. The deciphering and delineation of sound is accomplished by a mechanical filtering carried out by this membrane and that may be the most intriguing thing.
Minuscule in size, the tectorial membrane rests on tiny hairs within the cochlea, with small pores that control how water moves back and forth in response to vibrations. It was noted that the amplification produced by the membrane caused a different reaction to different frequencies of sound.
The middle frequencies were shown to have strong amplification and the tones at the lower and higher ends of the spectrum were less impacted.
It’s that development that leads some to believe MIT’s groundbreaking discovery could be the conduit to more effective hearing aids that ultimately enable better single-voice identification.
Hearing Aid Design of The Future
For years, the general design concepts of hearing aids have remained fairly unchanged. Tweaks and fine-tuning have helped with some enhancements, but most hearing aids are basically comprised of microphones that receive sounds and a loudspeaker that amplifies them. Unfortunately, that’s where one of the design’s drawbacks becomes clear.
All frequencies are increased with an amplification device including background noise. Tectorial membrane research could, according to another MIT researcher, lead to new, innovative hearing aid designs which would offer better speech recognition.
Theoretically, these new-and-improved hearing aids could functionally tune in to a distinct frequency range, which would permit the user to hear isolated sounds like a single voice. Only the chosen frequencies would be boosted with these hearing aids and everything else would be left alone.
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