Researchers at the famed Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) might have cracked the code on one of hearing’s most mystifying mysteries, and the revelation could lead to the overhauling of the design of future hearing aids.
The long standing belief 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 enables us to tune in to specific levels of sound.
How Our Ability to Hear is Affected by Background Noise
While millions of individuals battle hearing loss, only a fraction of them try to overcome 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, people that use a hearing-improvement device have traditionally still had trouble in environments with copious amounts of background noise. A person’s ability to single out voices, for instance, can be drastically limited in settings like a party or restaurant where there is a constant din of background noise.
Having a conversation with someone in a crowded room can be stressful and frustrating and individuals who deal with hearing loss know this all too well.
Scientists have been meticulously studying hearing loss for decades. The way that sound waves travel through the ear and how those waves are distinguished, due to this body of research, was thought to be well understood.
The Tectorial Membrane is Discovered
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 achieved by a mechanical filtering performed by this membrane and that might be the most fascinating thing.
When vibration comes into the ear, the minute tectorial membrane controls how water moves in reaction using small pores as it sits on little hairs in the cochlea. It was observed that the amplification created by the membrane caused a different reaction to different tones.
The tones at the highest and lowest range seemed to be less affected by the amplification, but the study found strong amplification among the middle frequencies.
It’s that progress that leads some to believe MIT’s groundbreaking breakthrough could be the conduit to more effective hearing aids that ultimately allow for better single-voice identification.
The Future of Hearing Aid Design
The fundamental principles 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 basic components of hearing aids which, besides a few technology tweaks, have remained unchanged. This is, regrettably, where the drawback of this design becomes obvious.
All frequencies are boosted with an amplification device including background noise. Tectorial membrane research could, according to another MIT scientist, lead to new, innovative hearing aid designs which would provide better speech recognition.
The user of these new hearing aids could, theoretically, tune in to an individual voice as the hearing aid would be able to tune specific frequencies. With this concept, the volume of those sounds would be the only sounds increased to aid in reception.
Need Some Hearing Loss Help?
If you’re experiencing some level of hearing loss, call us. Our mission is to supply you with answers to your questions about hearing impairment and the advantages of using hearing aids.