Researchers at the famed 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 enduring notion that voices are singled out by neural processing has been debunked by an MIT study. Isolating individual sound levels might actually be managed by a biochemical filter according to this study.
How Our Ability to Hear is Affected by Background Noise
While millions of individuals fight hearing loss, only a fraction of them attempt to overcome that hearing loss with the use of hearing aids.
Though a significant boost in one’s ability to hear can be the result of wearing a hearing aid, people that use a hearing-improvement device have traditionally still had trouble in environments with copious amounts of background noise. A person’s ability to discriminate voices, for example, can be severely limited in settings like a party or restaurant where there is a steady din of background noise.
Having a discussion with somebody in a crowded room can be upsetting and annoying and individuals who suffer from hearing loss know this all too well.
For decades scientists have been studying hearing loss. Due to 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
However, it was in 2007 that scientists identified the tectorial membrane inside of the inner ear’s cochlea. The ear is the only place on the body you will find this gel-like membrane. What really fascinated scientists was how the membrane supplies mechanical filtering that can decipher and delineate between sounds.
When vibration comes into the ear, the minute tectorial membrane controls how water moves in reaction using small pores as it rests on little hairs in the cochlea. Researchers noticed that different frequencies of sound reacted differently to the amplification produced by the membrane.
The tones at the highest and lowest range appeared to be less affected by the amplification, but the study revealed strong amplification in the middle tones.
Some scientists think 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 principles of hearing aids have remained fairly unchanged. Tweaks and fine-tuning have helped with some enhancements, but most hearing aids are generally comprised of microphones that receive sounds and a loudspeaker that amplifies them. Regrettably, that’s where one of the design’s drawbacks becomes apparent.
All frequencies are increased with an amplification device and that includes background noise. Another MIT researcher has long believed tectorial membrane exploration could lead to new hearing aid designs that offer better speech recognition for users.
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 distinct frequencies. Only the chosen frequencies would be increased with these hearing aids and everything else would be left alone.
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