Researchers at the famed Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) may have cracked the code on one of hearing’s most bewildering mysteries, and the revelation could result in the modification of the design of future hearing aids.
Findings from an MIT study debunked the idea that neural processing is what allows us to single out voices. Isolating specific sound levels might actually be handled 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 try to overcome that hearing loss with the use of hearing aids.
Although a hearing aid can give a tremendous boost to one’s ability to hear, settings with a lot of background noise have typically been a problem for individuals who use a hearing improvement device. A person’s ability to single out voices, for example, can be seriously limited in settings like a party or restaurant where there is a constant din of background noise.
Having a conversation with somebody in a crowded room can be upsetting and annoying and individuals who deal with hearing loss know this all too well.
For decades scientists have been studying hearing loss. The way that sound waves travel through the ear and how those waves are distinguished, due to this body of research, was believed to be well understood.
The Tectorial Membrane is Identified
However, it was in 2007 that scientists discovered the tectorial membrane within the inner ear’s cochlea. The ear is the only place on the body you will find this gel-like membrane. What really intrigued scientists was how the membrane provides mechanical filtering that can decipher and delineate between sounds.
Minuscule in size, the tectorial membrane rests on tiny hairs within the cochlea, with small pores that manage how water moves back and forth in response to vibrations. Researchers noticed that different frequencies of sound reacted differently to the amplification made by the membrane.
The middle frequencies were found to have strong amplification and the frequencies at the lower and higher ends of the spectrum were less affected.
Some scientists think that more effective hearing aids that can better identify individual voices will be the result of this groundbreaking MIT study.
Hearing Aid Design of The Future
For years, the basic design concepts of hearing aids have remained fairly unchanged. Tweaks and fine-tuning have helped with some enhancements, but most hearing aids are basically made up of microphones which receive sounds and a loudspeaker that amplifies them. This is, unfortunately, where the drawback of this design becomes apparent.
All frequencies are boosted with an amplification device including background noise. Tectorial membrane research could, according to another MIT scientist, lead to new, innovative hearing aid designs which would provide better speech recognition.
In theory, these new-and-improved hearing aids could functionally tune in to a specific frequency range, which would permit the user to hear isolated sounds like a single voice. With this concept, the volume of those sounds would be the only sounds increased to aid in reception.
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