“Researchers

One of hearing loss’s most puzzling mysteries might have been solved by scientists from the famed Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and the insight could lead to the overhauling of the design of future hearing aids.

The enduring notion that voices are singled out by neural processing has been debunked by an MIT study. According to the study, it might actually be a biochemical filter that allows us to tune in to specific levels of sound.

How Background Noise Impacts Our Ability to Hear

While millions of individuals battle hearing loss, only a fraction of them attempt to combat 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, settings with lots of background noise have typically been an issue for individuals who use a hearing improvement device. A person’s ability to single out voices, for example, can be drastically reduced in settings like a party or restaurant where there is a constant din of background noise.

Having a discussion with somebody in a crowded room can be stressful and annoying and people who deal with hearing loss know this all too well.

For decades scientists have been studying hearing loss. The way that sound waves move 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

However, it was in 2007 that scientists identified the tectorial membrane within the inner ear’s cochlea. You won’t find this microscopic membrane made of a gel-like material in any other parts of the body. The deciphering and delineation of sound is achieved by a mechanical filtering performed by this membrane and that may be the most fascinating thing.

Minuscule in size, the tectorial membrane sits on delicate hairs within the cochlea, with small pores that control how water moves back and forth in response to vibrations. Researchers noticed that different tones reacted differently to the amplification made by the membrane.

The frequencies at the highest and lowest range seemed to be less affected by the amplification, but the study revealed strong amplification among the middle frequencies.

Some scientists believe that more effective hearing aids that can better distinguish individual voices will be the outcome of this groundbreaking MIT study.

The Future of Hearing Aid Design

For years, the general design concepts of hearing aids have remained relatively unchanged. Tweaks and fine-tuning have helped with some enhancements, but the majority of hearing aids are essentially comprised of microphones which receive sounds and a loudspeaker that amplifies them. Regrettably, that’s where one of the design’s drawbacks becomes clear.

All frequencies are increased with an amplification device including background noise. Another MIT researcher has long thought tectorial membrane exploration could result in new hearing aid designs that offer better speech recognition for wearers.

Theoretically, these new-and-improved hearing aids could functionally tune to a distinct frequency range, which would allow the wearer to hear isolated sounds like a single voice. Only the chosen frequencies would be boosted with these hearing aids and everything else would be left alone.

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References

https://www.machinedesign.com/motion-control/researchers-discover-secret-how-we-can-pick-out-voice-crowd
http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/2019-01/16/c_137749535.htm
https://medicalxpress.com/news/2010-11-tuning-mechanism.html

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