Researchers at the famed Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) might have cracked the code on one of hearing’s most mystifying mysteries, and the future design of hearing aids could get an overhaul based on their findings.
The long standing idea that voices are singled out by neural processing has been debunked by an MIT study. Isolating specific levels of sound may actually be handled by a biochemical filter according to this study.
How Our Ability to Hear is Affected by Background Noise
Only a small fraction of the millions of people who suffer from hearing loss actually use hearing aids to deal with it.
Although a hearing aid can give a tremendous boost to one’s ability to hear, those that use a hearing-improvement device have commonly still had trouble in settings with copious amounts of background noise. A person’s ability to discriminate voices, for instance, can be seriously reduced in settings like a party or restaurant where there is a continuous din of background noise.
If you’re someone who is experiencing hearing loss, you very likely know how annoying and stressful it can be to have a personal conversation with somebody in a crowded room.
Scientists have been closely investigating hearing loss for decades. Due to those efforts, the way that sound waves travel throughout the inner ear, and how the ear distinguishes different frequencies of sounds, was thought to be well-understood.
The Tectorial Membrane is Identified
But the tectorial membrane wasn’t identified 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 performed by this membrane and that may be the most intriguing thing.
When vibration comes into the ear, the minute tectorial membrane manages how water moves in response 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 frequencies of sound.
The middle tones were found to have strong amplification and the frequencies at the lower and higher ends of the spectrum were less impacted.
Some scientists think 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 fundamental concepts of hearing aid design haven’t changed very much over the years. A microphone to pick up sound and a loudspeaker to amplify it are the general elements of hearing aids which, besides a few technology tweaks, have remained the same. Unfortunately, that’s where one of the design’s drawbacks becomes clear.
Amplifiers, usually, are not able to discern between different levels 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, result in new, innovative hearing aid designs which would provide better speech recognition.
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 desired frequencies would be boosted with these hearing aids and everything else would be left alone.
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