One of hearing loss’s most perplexing mysteries may have been solved by scientists from the famed Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and the insight could result in the modification of the design of future hearing aids.
The enduring idea that voices are singled out by neural processing has been debunked by an MIT study. Tuning into specific sound levels might actually be managed by a biochemical filter according to this study.
How Our Ability to Hear is Affected by Background Noise
Only a small fraction of the millions of individuals who cope with hearing loss actually use hearing aids to manage it.
Though a major boost in one’s ability to hear can be the result of using a hearing aid, environments with lots of background noise have typically been a problem for people who wear a hearing improvement device. For example, the steady buzz associated with settings like restaurants and parties can wreak havoc on a person’s ability to discriminate a voice.
If you’re a person who suffers from hearing loss, you very likely understand how annoying and upsetting it can be to have a personal conversation with somebody in a crowded room.
For decades scientists have been studying hearing loss. As a result of 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.
Scientists Discover The Tectorial Membrane
However, it was in 2007 that scientists identified the tectorial membrane inside of the inner ear’s cochlea. The ear is the only place on the body you will find this gel-like membrane. What really fascinated scientists was how the membrane provides mechanical filtering that can decipher and delineate between sounds.
When vibration comes into the ear, the tiny tectorial membrane controls how water moves in reaction using small pores as it sits on little hairs in the cochlea. Researchers observed that different frequencies of sound reacted differently to the amplification produced by the membrane.
The frequencies at the highest and lowest end of the spectrum appeared to be less impacted by the amplification, but the study found strong amplification among the middle tones.
It’s that development that leads some scientists to believe MIT’s groundbreaking breakthrough could be the conduit to more effective hearing aids that ultimately enable better single-voice recognition.
The Future of Hearing Aid Design
For years, the basic design concepts of hearing aids have remained rather 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 the same. This is, unfortunately, where the drawback of this design becomes apparent.
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 wearers.
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.
Have Questions About Hearing Loss?
If you’re experiencing some level of hearing loss, call us. Our mission is to give you answers to your questions about hearing loss and the benefit of using hearing aids.