One of hearing loss’s most perplexing mysteries might have been solved by scientists from the famous Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and the insight could lead to the modification of the design of future hearing aids.
The enduring belief that voices are singled out by neural processing has been debunked by an MIT study. According to the study, it may actually be a biochemical filter that enables us to tune in to specific levels of sound.
How Our Ability to Hear is Impacted by Background Noise
Only a small fraction of the millions of people who cope with hearing loss actually use hearing aids to deal with it.
Though a significant boost in one’s ability to hear can be the result of using a hearing aid, settings with a lot 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 single out a voice.
If you’re a person who is afflicted with hearing loss, you very likely recognize how frustrating and upsetting 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 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 enters the ear, the tiny tectorial membrane manages 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 made 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 affected.
Some scientists believe 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
The fundamental principles of hearing aid design haven’t changed very much over the years. 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 the same. This is, unfortunately, where the drawback of this design becomes obvious.
All frequencies are boosted with an amplification device and that includes background noise. Another MIT scientist has long thought tectorial membrane research could result in new hearing aid designs that offer better speech recognition for users.
Theoretically, these new-and-improved hearing aids could functionally tune to a specific frequency range, which would allow the wearer to hear isolated sounds like a single voice. Only the chosen frequencies would be increased with these hearing aids and everything else would be left alone.
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