One of hearing loss’s most puzzling mysteries may have been solved by scientists from the famous Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and the revelation could lead to the modification of the design of future hearing aids.
Results from an MIT study debunked the belief that neural processing is what allows us to single out voices. Isolating individual sound levels might actually be handled by a biochemical filter according to this study.
How Background Noise Effects Our Ability to Hear
Only a small portion of the millions of individuals who cope with hearing loss actually use hearing aids to deal with it.
Though a significant boost in one’s ability to hear can be the outcome of using a hearing aid, environments with lots of background noise have traditionally been a problem for individuals who wear a hearing improvement device. For instance, the continuous buzz surrounding settings like restaurants and parties can wreak havoc on a person’s ability to single out a voice.
Having a conversation with somebody in a crowded room can be stressful and annoying and people who suffer from hearing loss know this all too well.
Scientists have been meticulously studying hearing loss for decades. As a result of 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.
Scientists Discover The Tectorial Membrane
However, it was in 2007 that scientists identified the tectorial membrane inside of the inner ear’s cochlea. You won’t see this microscopic membrane made of a gel-like substance in any other parts of the body. What really intrigued scientists was how the membrane provides mechanical filtering that can decipher and delineate between sounds.
Minute in size, the tectorial membrane sits on little hairs inside the cochlea, with small pores that manage how water moves back and forth in reaction to vibrations. Researchers observed that different frequencies of sound reacted differently to the amplification made by the membrane.
The middle tones were shown to have strong amplification and the tones at the lower and higher ends of the spectrum were less affected.
It’s that development 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. Adjustments and fine-tuning have helped with some enhancements, but most hearing aids are basically made up of microphones which receive sounds and a loudspeaker that amplifies them. Regrettably, that’s where one of the design’s shortcomings becomes apparent.
Amplifiers, normally, are unable to discern between different frequencies of sounds, because of this, the ear receives boosted levels of all sounds, that includes background noise. Tectorial membrane research could, according to another MIT scientist, result in new, state-of-the-art hearing aid designs which would offer better speech recognition.
In theory, these new-and-improved hearing aids could functionally tune in to a specific frequency range, which would allow 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.
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