One of hearing loss’s most perplexing mysteries may have been solved by scientists from the famous Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and the revelation could result in 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 allows us to tune in to specific levels of sound.
How Background Noise Impacts Our Ability to Hear
Only a small fraction of the millions of people who suffer from hearing loss actually use hearing aids to deal with it.
Though a significant boost in one’s ability to hear can be the outcome of using a hearing aid, settings with a lot of background noise have typically been an issue for individuals who use a hearing improvement device. A person’s ability to discriminate voices, for example, can be seriously reduced in settings like a party or restaurant where there is a continuous din of background noise.
If you’re a person who suffers from hearing loss, you most likely know how annoying and upsetting it can be to have a personal conversation with somebody in a crowded room.
For decades scientists have been investigating hearing loss. The way that sound waves move through the ear and how those waves are differentiated, due to this body of research, was thought to be well understood.
Scientists Discover The Tectorial Membrane
However, it was in 2007 that scientists discovered the tectorial membrane inside of the inner ear’s cochlea. You won’t find this microscopic membrane made of a gel-like substance in any other parts of the body. What really fascinated scientists was how the membrane provides mechanical filtering that can decipher and delineate between sounds.
When vibration enters the ear, the tiny tectorial membrane controls how water moves in reaction using small pores as it rests on little hairs in the cochlea. It was observed that the amplification produced by the membrane caused a different reaction to different tones.
The tones at the highest and lowest end of the spectrum appeared to be less impacted by the amplification, but the study revealed strong amplification in the middle frequencies.
Some scientists believe that more effective hearing aids that can better distinguish individual voices will be the result of this groundbreaking MIT study.
Hearing Aid Design of The Future
For years, the basic design principles of hearing aids have remained rather unchanged. A microphone to pick up sound and a loudspeaker to amplify it are the general components of hearing aids which, besides a few technology tweaks, have remained the same. Unfortunately, that’s where one of the design’s shortcomings becomes evident.
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 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 distinct frequencies. Only the desired frequencies would be boosted with these hearing aids and everything else would be left alone.
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