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.
The enduring notion that voices are isolated 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 individuals who suffer from hearing loss actually use hearing aids to manage it.
Though a major boost in one’s ability to hear can be the outcome of wearing a hearing aid, environments with lots of background noise have typically been an issue for individuals who use a hearing improvement device. A person’s ability to single out voices, for instance, can be seriously limited in settings like a party or restaurant where there is a steady din of background noise.
Having a discussion with someone in a crowded room can be upsetting and annoying and people who suffer from hearing loss know this all too well.
Scientists have been meticulously investigating hearing loss for decades. 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 Discover The Tectorial Membrane
But the tectorial membrane wasn’t discovered by scientists until 2007. The ear is the only place on the body you will find this gel-like membrane. The deciphering and delineation of sound is accomplished by a mechanical filtering carried out by this membrane and that might be the most intriguing thing.
Minute in size, the tectorial membrane sits on little hairs within the cochlea, with small pores that manage how water moves back and forth in reaction to vibrations. It was observed that the amplification produced by the membrane caused a different reaction to different tones.
The middle frequencies were shown to have strong amplification and the tones at the lower and higher ends of the spectrum were less affected.
Some scientists believe that more effective hearing aids that can better identify 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. Tweaks and fine-tuning have helped with some enhancements, but the majority of hearing aids are generally 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. Another MIT researcher has long believed tectorial membrane exploration could result in new hearing aid designs that provide better speech recognition for users.
The user of these new hearing aids could, theoretically, tune in to a specific voice as the hearing aid would be able to tune distinct frequencies. Only the chosen frequencies would be boosted with these hearing aids and everything else would be left alone.
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