Researchers at the famed Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) may have cracked the code on one of hearing’s most bewildering mysteries, and the future design of hearing aids could get an overhaul in line with their findings.
The long standing belief that voices are singled out by neural processing has been debunked by an MIT study. Isolating specific levels of sound 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 people battle hearing loss, only a fraction of them try to overcome that hearing loss with the use of hearing aids.
Though a major boost in one’s ability to hear can be the result of wearing a hearing aid, people that use a hearing-improvement device have commonly still had trouble in environments with copious amounts of background noise. A person’s ability to single out 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 a person who is experiencing hearing loss, you very likely understand how frustrating and upsetting it can be to have a one-on-one conversation with someone in a crowded room.
Scientists have been closely 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.
Scientists Identify The Tectorial Membrane
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 sits on tiny hairs within the cochlea, with small pores that control how water moves back and forth in response to vibrations. Researchers noticed that different tones reacted differently to the amplification produced by the membrane.
The middle tones were found to have strong amplification and the tones 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.
The Future of Hearing Aid Design
The fundamental principles of hearing aid design haven’t changed much over the years. A microphone to pick up sound and a loudspeaker to amplify it are the general components of hearing aids which, besides a few technology tweaks, have remained unchanged. Unfortunately, that’s where one of the design’s drawbacks becomes clear.
Amplifiers, normally, are not able to differentiate between different frequencies of sounds, which means the ear gets increased levels of all sounds, that includes background noise. Tectorial membrane research could, according to another MIT researcher, lead to new, innovative hearing aid designs which would offer better speech recognition.
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. With this design, the volume of those sounds would be the only sounds amplified to aid in reception.
Need Some Hearing Loss Help?
Contact us if you think you may be experiencing some level of hearing loss. Providing you with the information you need about hearing loss and the benefits of using hearing aids is our goal.