Researchers at the famed Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) may have cracked the code on one of hearing’s most mystifying mysteries, and the insight could result in the modification of the design of future hearing aids.
Findings from an MIT study debunked the idea that neural processing is what allows us to single out voices. Tuning into 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 battle hearing loss, only a fraction of them attempt to deal with that hearing loss using hearing aids.
Though a hearing aid can give a significant boost to one’s ability to hear, people who use a hearing-improvement device have traditionally still struggled in settings with a lot of background noise. A person’s ability to single out voices, for example, can be severely limited in settings like a party or restaurant where there is a constant din of background noise.
Having a discussion with somebody in a crowded room can be upsetting and annoying and people who cope with hearing loss know this all too well.
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 believed to be well understood.
Scientists Discover The Tectorial Membrane
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 sits on delicate hairs inside the cochlea, with small pores that manage how water moves back and forth in response to vibrations. It was noted that the amplification created by the membrane caused a different reaction to different tones.
The middle tones were shown to have strong amplification and the frequencies at the lower and higher ends of the scale were less affected.
Some scientists think that more effective hearing aids that can better identify individual voices will be the result of this groundbreaking MIT study.
The Future of Hearing Aid Design
For years, the general design concepts of hearing aids have remained rather unchanged. A microphone to pick up sound and a loudspeaker to amplify it are the general components of hearing aids which, besides a few technology tweaks, have remained the same. Regrettably, that’s where one of the design’s shortcomings becomes clear.
Amplifiers, typically, are not able to discern between different levels of sounds, because of this, the ear gets boosted levels of all sounds, including background noise. Tectorial membrane research could, according to another MIT researcher, lead to new, state-of-the-art hearing aid designs which would provide better speech recognition.
Theoretically, these new-and-improved hearing aids could functionally tune in to a specific frequency range, which would permit the wearer to hear isolated sounds like a single voice. 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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