Researchers at the famed Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) might have cracked the code on one of hearing’s most bewildering mysteries, and the future design of hearing aids could get an overhaul based on their findings.
Findings from an MIT study debunked the notion that neural processing is what lets us pick out voices. Tuning into individual sound levels might actually be managed by a biochemical filter according to this study.
How Background Noise Impacts Our Ability to Hear
While millions of individuals fight hearing loss, only a fraction of them attempt to combat that hearing loss with the use of hearing aids.
Even though a hearing aid can give a tremendous boost to one’s ability to hear, those that wear a hearing-improvement device have commonly still struggled in settings with a lot of background noise. For instance, the steady buzz surrounding settings like parties and restaurants can wreak havoc on a person’s ability to discriminate a voice.
Having a conversation with someone in a crowded room can be stressful and annoying and individuals who cope with hearing loss know this all too well.
Scientists have been closely studying 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.
Scientists Identify The Tectorial Membrane
But the tectorial membrane wasn’t identified by scientists until 2007. You won’t find this microscopic membrane composed of a gel-like substance in any other parts of the body. The deciphering and delineation of sound is accomplished by a mechanical filtering carried out by this membrane and that might be the most fascinating thing.
Minuscule in size, the tectorial membrane rests on delicate hairs inside the cochlea, with small pores that manage how water moves back and forth in response to vibrations. Researchers observed that different tones reacted differently to the amplification produced by the membrane.
The frequencies at the highest and lowest end of the spectrum appeared to be less impacted by the amplification, but the study found strong amplification in the middle tones.
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 basic concepts of hearing aid design haven’t changed very much over the years. Adjustments and fine-tuning have helped with some enhancements, but the majority of hearing aids are basically comprised of microphones that pick up sounds and a loudspeaker that amplifies them. Unfortunately, that’s where one of the design’s shortcomings becomes evident.
All frequencies are boosted with an amplification device including background noise. Tectorial membrane research could, according to another MIT researcher, result in new, innovative hearing aid designs which would provide better speech recognition.
The user of these new hearing aids could, in theory, tune in to an individual voice as the hearing aid would be able to tune specific frequencies. Only the desired frequencies would be increased with these hearing aids and everything else would be left alone.
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