Researchers at the famed Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) may have cracked the code on one of hearing’s most bewildering mysteries, and the revelation could result in the modification of the design of future hearing aids.
The long standing notion that voices are isolated by neural processing has been debunked by an MIT study. Isolating specific sound levels may actually be handled by a biochemical filter according to this study.
How Our Ability to Hear is Affected by Background Noise
Only a small portion of the millions of individuals who suffer from 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, settings with lots of background noise have traditionally been a problem for individuals who wear a hearing improvement device. For instance, the steady buzz surrounding settings like parties and restaurants can wreak havoc on a person’s ability to discriminate a voice.
If you’re a person who suffers from hearing loss, you most likely know how annoying and stressful it can be to have a personal conversation with somebody in a crowded room.
Scientists have been closely investigating hearing loss for decades. As a result of those efforts, the way in which 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 discovered by scientists until 2007. You won’t find this microscopic membrane made of a gel-like substance in any other parts of the body. What really intrigued scientists was how the membrane supplies mechanical filtering that can decipher and delineate between sounds.
Minute in size, the tectorial membrane rests on tiny hairs within the cochlea, with small pores that manage 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 tones were found to have strong amplification and the frequencies 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 allow for better single-voice identification.
Hearing Aid Design of The Future
For years, the general design principles of hearing aids have remained fairly unchanged. A microphone to pick up sound and a loudspeaker to amplify it are the basic components of hearing aids which, besides a few technology tweaks, have remained unchanged. This is, unfortunately, where the shortcoming of this design becomes apparent.
All frequencies are increased with an amplification device including background noise. Tectorial membrane research could, according to another MIT scientist, lead to new, innovative hearing aid designs which would offer better speech recognition.
Theoretically, these new-and-improved hearing aids could functionally tune to a specific frequency range, which would permit the user to hear isolated sounds such as a single voice. With this concept, the volume of those sounds would be the only sounds increased to aid in reception.
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