Researchers at the famous 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 may get an overhaul in line with their findings.
Findings from an MIT study debunked the idea that neural processing is what lets us single out voices. Isolating individual sound levels may actually be managed by a biochemical filter according to this study.
How Background Noise Effects Our Ability to Hear
While millions of people battle hearing loss, only a fraction of them attempt to combat that hearing loss with the use of hearing aids.
Though a major boost in one’s ability to hear can be the outcome of wearing a hearing aid, those who wear a hearing-improvement device have typically still struggled in settings with copious amounts of background noise. For example, the continuous buzz surrounding settings like parties and restaurants can wreak havoc on a person’s ability to discriminate a voice.
Having a discussion with somebody in a crowded room can be stressful and annoying and individuals who deal with hearing loss know this all too well.
Scientists have been meticulously investigating hearing loss for decades. The way that sound waves move through the ear and how those waves are differentiated, 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 inside of the inner ear’s cochlea. You won’t find this microscopic membrane composed of a gel-like substance in any other parts of the body. The deciphering and delineation of sound is accomplished by a mechanical filtering carried out by this membrane and that might be the most fascinating thing.
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. Researchers observed that different tones reacted differently to the amplification produced by the membrane.
The middle tones were found to have strong amplification and the frequencies at the lower and higher ends of the spectrum were less impacted.
It’s that progress that leads some scientists to believe MIT’s groundbreaking discovery could be the conduit to more effective hearing aids that ultimately enable better single-voice identification.
Hearing Aid Design of The Future
The fundamental principles of hearing aid design haven’t changed much over the years. Tweaks and fine-tuning have helped with some enhancements, but most hearing aids are generally comprised of microphones which receive sounds and a loudspeaker that amplifies them. This is, regrettably, where the drawback of this design becomes apparent.
Amplifiers, normally, are not able to discern between different frequencies of sounds, which means the ear receives boosted levels of all sounds, including background noise. Another MIT researcher has long thought tectorial membrane exploration could lead to new hearing aid designs that offer better speech recognition for wearers.
The user of these new hearing aids could, in theory, tune in to a specific voice as the hearing aid would be able to tune distinct frequencies. Only the desired frequencies would be amplified with these hearing aids and everything else would be left alone.
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