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 might get an overhaul in line with their findings.
The long standing notion 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 enables us to tune in to specific levels of sound.
How Background Noise Impacts Our Ability to Hear
While millions of individuals fight hearing loss, only a fraction of them try to overcome that hearing loss with the use of hearing aids.
Even though a hearing aid can give a tremendous boost to one’s ability to hear, those who use a hearing-improvement device have commonly still struggled in environments with copious amounts of background noise. For example, the constant buzz surrounding settings like restaurants and parties can wreak havoc on a person’s ability to single out a voice.
If you’re a person who is experiencing hearing loss, you most likely know how frustrating and upsetting it can be to have a personal conversation with someone in a crowded room.
For decades scientists have been studying hearing loss. 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
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 carried out by this membrane and that may be the most fascinating thing.
When vibration comes into the ear, the minute tectorial membrane controls how water moves in response using small pores as it sits on little hairs in the cochlea. It was noted that the amplification produced by the membrane caused a different reaction to different tones.
The middle tones were shown to have strong amplification and the tones at the lower and higher ends of the scale were less affected.
Some scientists think that more effective hearing aids that can better distinguish individual voices will be the outcome of this groundbreaking MIT study.
The Future of Hearing Aid Design
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 general elements of hearing aids which, besides a few technology tweaks, have remained the same. Unfortunately, that’s where one of the design’s shortcomings becomes apparent.
Amplifiers, normally, are unable to differentiate between different frequencies of sounds, because of this, the ear receives increased levels of all sounds, including background noise. Tectorial membrane research could, according to another MIT scientist, lead to new, state-of-the-art hearing aid designs which would offer better speech recognition.
The user of these new hearing aids could, in theory, tune in to a specific voice as the hearing aid would be able to tune distinct frequencies. With this design, the volume of those sounds would be the only sounds amplified to aid in reception.
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