One of hearing loss’s most puzzling mysteries may have been solved by scientists from the famous Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and the insight could result in the modification of the design of future hearing aids.
The long standing notion 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 enables us to tune in to specific levels of sound.
How Our Ability to Hear is Impacted by Background Noise
Only a small portion of the millions of individuals who suffer from hearing loss actually use hearing aids to deal with it.
Though a hearing aid can give a tremendous boost to one’s ability to hear, people that wear a hearing-improvement device have typically still struggled in environments with copious amounts of background noise. For instance, the continuous buzz surrounding settings like parties and restaurants can wreak havoc on a person’s ability to single out a voice.
Having a conversation with somebody in a crowded room can be stressful and frustrating 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 Discover 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 see this gel-like membrane. The deciphering and delineation of sound is achieved by a mechanical filtering carried out by this membrane and that may be the most fascinating thing.
When vibration enters the ear, the minute tectorial membrane controls how water moves in response using small pores as it rests on little hairs in the cochlea. It was noted that the amplification created by the membrane caused a different reaction to different frequencies of sound.
The middle tones were found to have strong amplification and the frequencies at the lower and higher ends of the scale were less affected.
Some scientists think that more effective hearing aids that can better distinguish 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. A microphone to detect sound and a loudspeaker to amplify it are the general components of hearing aids which, besides a few technology tweaks, have remained unchanged. Regrettably, that’s where one of the design’s drawbacks becomes clear.
Amplifiers, typically, are unable to differentiate between different frequencies of sounds, because of this, the ear receives increased levels of all sounds, that includes background noise. Tectorial membrane research could, according to another MIT researcher, lead to new, state-of-the-art hearing aid designs which would offer better speech recognition.
The user of these new hearing aids could, theoretically, tune in to an individual voice as the hearing aid would be able to tune distinct frequencies. With this design, the volume of those sounds would be the only sounds boosted to aid in reception.
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