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 may get an overhaul based on their findings.
The enduring notion that voices are singled out by neural processing has been debunked by an MIT study. Isolating individual sound levels may actually be handled by a biochemical filter according to this study.
How Background Noise Effects Our Ability to Hear
Only a small portion of the millions of individuals who suffer from hearing loss actually use hearing aids to deal with it.
Although a hearing aid can provide a significant boost to one’s ability to hear, those who wear a hearing-improvement device have traditionally still had trouble in environments with copious amounts of background noise. For example, the steady buzz associated with 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 understand how annoying and stressful it can be to have a personal conversation with somebody in a crowded room.
For decades scientists have been investigating 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 Discover The Tectorial Membrane
But the tectorial membrane wasn’t discovered by scientists until 2007. You won’t see this microscopic membrane made of a gel-like material in any other parts of the body. The deciphering and delineation of sound is accomplished by a mechanical filtering performed by this membrane and that might be the most fascinating thing.
When vibration comes into the ear, the tiny tectorial membrane controls how water moves in reaction using small pores as it rests on little hairs in the cochlea. Researchers observed that different frequencies of sound reacted differently to the amplification produced by the membrane.
The middle tones were shown to have strong amplification and the tones at the lower and higher ends of the scale were less affected.
It’s that development that leads some scientists to believe MIT’s groundbreaking discovery could be the conduit to more effective hearing aids that ultimately allow for better single-voice recognition.
The Future of Hearing Aid Design
For years, the basic design concepts of hearing aids have remained rather unchanged. Tweaks and fine-tuning have helped with some improvements, but the majority of hearing aids are basically comprised of microphones that pick up sounds and a loudspeaker that amplifies them. This is, regrettably, where the drawback of this design becomes apparent.
Amplifiers, typically, are not able to differentiate between different frequencies of sounds, which means the ear gets boosted levels of all sounds, that includes background noise. Tectorial membrane research could, according to another MIT researcher, lead to new, innovative hearing aid designs which would provide better speech recognition.
In theory, 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. Only the desired frequencies would be increased with these hearing aids and everything else would be left alone.
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