Researchers at the famed Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) may have cracked the code on one of hearing’s most mystifying mysteries, and the future design of hearing aids might get an overhaul based on their findings.
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 individual sound levels.
How Our Ability to Hear is Affected by Background Noise
While millions of individuals fight hearing loss, only a fraction of them try to deal with that hearing loss with the use of hearing aids.
Even though a hearing aid can give a tremendous boost to one’s ability to hear, environments with lots of background noise have traditionally been an issue for people who wear a hearing improvement device. For instance, the constant buzz associated with settings like restaurants and parties can wreak havoc on a person’s ability to single out a voice.
If you’re someone who suffers from hearing loss, you most likely recognize how frustrating and stressful it can be to have a one-on-one conversation with someone in a crowded room.
For decades scientists have been studying hearing loss. 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.
The Tectorial Membrane is Discovered
However, it was in 2007 that scientists discovered the tectorial membrane inside of the inner ear’s cochlea. You won’t see this microscopic membrane composed of a gel-like material in any other parts of the body. The deciphering and delineation of sound is achieved by a mechanical filtering performed by this membrane and that may be the most fascinating 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 frequencies were shown 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 outcome of this groundbreaking MIT study.
Hearing Aid Design of The Future
For years, the basic design principles of hearing aids have remained fairly unchanged. Tweaks and fine-tuning have helped with some improvements, but most hearing aids are essentially comprised of microphones that pick up sounds and a loudspeaker that amplifies them. Regrettably, that’s where one of the design’s drawbacks becomes evident.
All frequencies are boosted with an amplification device including background noise. Another MIT scientist has long believed tectorial membrane research could lead to new hearing aid designs that provide better speech recognition for users.
Theoretically, these new-and-improved hearing aids could functionally tune to a distinct 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 boosted to aid in reception.
Have Questions About Hearing Loss?
If you’re noticing some form of hearing loss, contact us. Our mission is to supply you with answers to your questions about hearing loss and the advantages of using hearing aids.