Researchers at the famous Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) may have cracked the code on one of hearing’s most mystifying mysteries, and the future design of hearing aids could 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. Tuning into specific levels of sound may actually be managed 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 people who suffer from hearing loss actually use hearing aids to deal with it.
Though a hearing aid can provide a significant boost to one’s ability to hear, environments with a lot of background noise have traditionally been a problem for individuals who use a hearing improvement device. For example, the steady buzz surrounding settings like restaurants and parties can wreak havoc on a person’s ability to discriminate a voice.
Having a discussion with somebody in a crowded room can be stressful and annoying and people who deal with hearing loss know this all too well.
For decades scientists have been studying hearing loss. Due to 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.
The Tectorial Membrane is Identified
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 achieved by a mechanical filtering performed by this membrane and that might be the most intriguing thing.
When vibration enters the ear, the tiny tectorial membrane manages how water moves in reaction using small pores as it sits on little hairs in the cochlea. Researchers observed that different tones 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 impacted.
Some scientists believe that more effective hearing aids that can better identify individual voices will be the outcome of this groundbreaking MIT study.
Hearing Aid Design of The Future
For years, the basic design concepts of hearing aids have remained rather unchanged. A microphone to pick up sound and a loudspeaker to amplify it are the basic elements 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. Tectorial membrane research could, according to another MIT scientist, lead to new, state-of-the-art hearing aid designs which would offer better speech recognition.
The user of these new hearing aids could, in theory, tune in to a specific voice as the hearing aid would be able to tune specific frequencies. With this design, the volume of those sounds would be the only sounds increased to aid in reception.
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