How Research Helps Your Hearing

Researchers working to improve hearing aids with new technology and algorithms.

One of hearing loss’s most perplexing mysteries might have been solved by scientists from the famed Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and the future design of hearing aids may get an overhaul in line with their findings.

Findings from an MIT study debunked the belief that neural processing is what lets us pick out voices. According to the study, it might actually be a biochemical filter that allows us to tune in to specific sound levels.

How Background Noise Effects Our Ability to Hear

While millions of people fight hearing loss, only a fraction of them attempt to overcome that hearing loss using hearing aids.

Though a major boost in one’s ability to hear can be the result of using a hearing aid, those who wear a hearing-improvement device have commonly still struggled in environments with a lot of background noise. For instance, the steady buzz associated with settings like parties and restaurants can wreak havoc on a person’s ability to discriminate a voice.

Having a conversation with someone in a crowded room can be stressful and frustrating and individuals who suffer from hearing loss know this all too well.

Scientists have been closely investigating hearing loss for decades. Due to 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 Identify The Tectorial Membrane

However, it was in 2007 that scientists discovered the tectorial membrane inside of the inner ear’s cochlea. You won’t find this microscopic membrane made of a gel-like substance in any other parts of the body. The deciphering and delineation of sound is accomplished by a mechanical filtering carried out by this membrane and that might be the most intriguing thing.

Minute in size, the tectorial membrane rests on tiny hairs within the cochlea, with small pores that manage how water moves back and forth in reaction to vibrations. It was observed that the amplification produced by the membrane caused a different reaction to different tones.

The middle tones were found to have strong amplification and the tones at the lower and higher ends of the scale were less impacted.

It’s that development that leads some to believe MIT’s groundbreaking breakthrough could be the conduit to more effective hearing aids that ultimately enable 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 improvements, but the majority of hearing aids are essentially comprised of microphones that receive sounds and a loudspeaker that amplifies them. This is, unfortunately, where the drawback of this design becomes apparent.

Amplifiers, usually, are unable to differentiate between different levels of sounds, because of this, the ear receives boosted levels of all sounds, including 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 an individual voice as the hearing aid would be able to tune distinct frequencies. With this concept, the volume of those sounds would be the only sounds increased to aid in reception.

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