Researchers at the famed Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) might have cracked the code on one of hearing’s most mystifying mysteries, and the revelation could lead to the overhauling of the design of future hearing aids.
Findings from an MIT study debunked the belief that neural processing is what allows us to pick out voices. Isolating individual sound levels may actually be managed by a biochemical filter according to this study.
How Background Noise Effects Our Ability to Hear
While millions of individuals fight hearing loss, only a fraction of them attempt to overcome that hearing loss with the use of hearing aids.
Though a major boost in one’s ability to hear can be the result of using a hearing aid, settings with a lot of background noise have typically been an issue for people who wear a hearing improvement device. For instance, the constant buzz surrounding settings like restaurants and parties can wreak havoc on a person’s ability to single out a voice.
Having a discussion with someone in a crowded room can be upsetting and annoying and individuals who deal with hearing loss know this all too well.
Scientists have been closely 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.
The Tectorial Membrane is Identified
But the tectorial membrane wasn’t identified by scientists until 2007. The ear is the only place on the body you will see this gel-like membrane. What really fascinated scientists was how the membrane supplies mechanical filtering that can decipher and delineate between sounds.
When vibration comes into the ear, the tiny tectorial membrane manages how water moves in reaction using small pores as it sits on little hairs in the cochlea. Researchers noticed that different tones reacted differently to the amplification produced by the membrane.
The middle frequencies were shown to have strong amplification and the frequencies at the lower and higher ends of the scale were less impacted.
Some scientists believe that more effective hearing aids that can better identify individual voices will be the outcome of this groundbreaking MIT study.
The Future of Hearing Aid Design
For years, the basic design principles of hearing aids have remained rather unchanged. Adjustments and fine-tuning have helped with some enhancements, but the majority of hearing aids are generally made up of microphones that receive sounds and a loudspeaker that amplifies them. Unfortunately, that’s where one of the design’s drawbacks becomes clear.
Amplifiers, normally, are not able to discern between different levels of sounds, which means the ear receives boosted levels of all sounds, including background noise. Another MIT researcher has long believed tectorial membrane exploration could lead to new hearing aid designs that provide better speech recognition for wearers.
The user of these new hearing aids could, in theory, tune in to an individual voice as the hearing aid would be able to tune distinct frequencies. With this concept, the volume of those sounds would be the only sounds boosted to aid in reception.
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