One of hearing loss’s most puzzling mysteries may have been solved by scientists from the famed Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and the revelation could lead to the modification of the design of future hearing aids.
Findings from an MIT study debunked the notion that neural processing is what lets us single out voices. According to the study, it might actually be a biochemical filter that enables us to tune in to individual levels of sound.
How Background Noise Effects Our Ability to Hear
While millions of people fight hearing loss, only a fraction of them try to overcome that hearing loss using hearing aids.
Though a major boost in one’s ability to hear can be the outcome of using a hearing aid, environments with a lot of background noise have typically been a problem for individuals who wear a hearing improvement device. A person’s ability to discriminate voices, for example, can be drastically limited in settings like a party or restaurant where there is a continuous din of background noise.
Having a conversation with somebody in a crowded room can be stressful and annoying and individuals who suffer from hearing loss know this all too well.
Scientists have been closely studying hearing loss for decades. The way that sound waves move through the ear and how those waves are distinguished, due to this body of research, was believed to be well understood.
The Tectorial Membrane is Discovered
But the tectorial membrane wasn’t identified by scientists until 2007. 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 performed by this membrane and that may be the most fascinating thing.
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 reaction to vibrations. Researchers noticed that different frequencies of sound reacted differently to the amplification made by the membrane.
The middle frequencies were shown to have strong amplification and the tones at the lower and higher ends of the scale were less impacted.
Some scientists think that more effective hearing aids that can better distinguish individual voices will be the result of this groundbreaking MIT study.
Hearing Aid Design of The Future
For years, the general design principles of hearing aids have remained relatively unchanged. A microphone to detect sound and a loudspeaker to amplify it are the basic 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.
All frequencies are increased with an amplification device including background noise. Another MIT scientist has long thought tectorial membrane exploration could lead to new hearing aid designs that provide better speech recognition for wearers.
Theoretically, these new-and-improved hearing aids could functionally tune to a specific frequency range, which would allow the user to hear isolated sounds such as a single voice. Only the chosen frequencies would be boosted with these hearing aids and everything else would be left alone.
Have Questions About Hearing Loss?
Contact us if you think you may be coping with some amount of hearing loss. Our mission is to provide you with answers to your questions about hearing impairment and the advantages of using hearing aids.