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 may get an overhaul based on their findings.
Results from an MIT study debunked the idea that neural processing is what lets us pick out voices. Isolating specific levels of sound may actually be managed by a biochemical filter according to this study.
How Background Noise Effects Our Ability to Hear
Only a small portion of the millions of individuals 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, environments with lots of background noise have typically been a problem for individuals who wear a hearing improvement device. For example, the steady buzz associated with settings like restaurants and parties can wreak havoc on a person’s ability to single out a voice.
Having a discussion with someone in a crowded room can be stressful and annoying and individuals who suffer from hearing loss know this all too well.
Scientists have been meticulously investigating hearing loss for decades. The way that sound waves travel through the ear and how those waves are differentiated, due to this body of research, was believed to be well understood.
Scientists Discover The Tectorial Membrane
But the tectorial membrane wasn’t discovered by scientists until 2007. You won’t see this microscopic membrane composed of a gel-like substance 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 may be the most fascinating thing.
Minute in size, the tectorial membrane sits on little hairs inside the cochlea, with small pores that manage how water moves back and forth in reaction to vibrations. Researchers noticed 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 tones at the lower and higher ends of the scale were less impacted.
Some scientists believe that more effective hearing aids that can better distinguish individual voices will be the outcome of this groundbreaking MIT study.
Hearing Aid Design of The Future
The basic concepts of hearing aid design haven’t changed very much over the years. Tweaks and fine-tuning have helped with some enhancements, but the majority of hearing aids are generally made up of microphones that receive sounds and a loudspeaker that amplifies them. This is, regrettably, where the shortcoming of this design becomes apparent.
Amplifiers, usually, are not able to discern between different frequencies of sounds, which means the ear receives boosted levels of all sounds, that includes background noise. Another MIT researcher has long thought tectorial membrane research could lead to new hearing aid designs that offer better speech recognition for users.
In theory, these new-and-improved hearing aids could functionally tune in to a distinct frequency range, which would permit the user to hear isolated sounds like a single voice. Only the desired frequencies would be amplified with these hearing aids and everything else would be left alone.
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