One of hearing loss’s most perplexing mysteries might have been solved by scientists from the famous Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and the future design of hearing aids might get an overhaul in line with their findings.
The long standing belief 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 allows us to tune in to individual levels of sound.
How Our Ability to Hear is Impacted by Background Noise
Only a small portion of the millions of people who suffer from hearing loss actually use hearing aids to deal with it.
Even though a hearing aid can give a significant boost to one’s ability to hear, settings with a lot of background noise have traditionally been a problem for people who wear a hearing improvement device. For instance, the constant buzz associated with settings like parties and restaurants can wreak havoc on a person’s ability to discriminate a voice.
Having a discussion with someone in a crowded room can be upsetting and annoying and individuals who cope with hearing loss know this all too well.
Scientists have been closely studying 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 thought to be well understood.
Scientists Identify The Tectorial Membrane
But the tectorial membrane wasn’t discovered by scientists until 2007. You won’t find this microscopic membrane made of a gel-like material in any other parts of the body. The deciphering and delineation of sound is achieved by a mechanical filtering carried out by this membrane and that may be the most intriguing thing.
When vibration comes into the ear, the tiny tectorial membrane controls how water moves in response using small pores as it rests on little hairs in the cochlea. It was noted that the amplification produced by the membrane caused a different reaction to different tones.
The tones at the highest and lowest range appeared to be less affected by the amplification, but the study revealed strong amplification among the middle tones.
It’s that development that leads some to believe MIT’s groundbreaking breakthrough could be the conduit to more effective hearing aids that ultimately enable better single-voice identification.
Hearing Aid Design of The Future
For years, the basic design principles of hearing aids have remained relatively unchanged. Adjustments and fine-tuning have helped with some enhancements, but the majority of hearing aids are basically comprised of microphones that receive sounds and a loudspeaker that amplifies them. This is, unfortunately, where the drawback of this design becomes obvious.
Amplifiers, usually, are not able to discern between different levels of sounds, which means the ear gets boosted levels of all sounds, including background noise. Tectorial membrane research could, according to another MIT researcher, result in new, state-of-the-art hearing aid designs which would offer better speech recognition.
Theoretically, these new-and-improved hearing aids could functionally tune in to a distinct frequency range, which would enable the wearer to hear isolated sounds such as 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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