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

Researchers at the famous Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) might have cracked the code on one of hearing’s most bewildering mysteries, and the future design of hearing aids may get an overhaul in line with their findings.

The long standing notion that voices are singled out by neural processing has been debunked by an MIT study. Tuning into 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 suffer from hearing loss actually use hearing aids to manage it.

Though a significant boost in one’s ability to hear can be the outcome of wearing a hearing aid, people who use a hearing-improvement device have typically still had trouble in environments with copious amounts of background noise. A person’s ability to single out voices, for example, can be severely reduced in settings like a party or restaurant where there is a constant din of background noise.

If you’re someone who is afflicted with hearing loss, you most likely recognize how annoying and upsetting it can be to have a one-on-one conversation with somebody in a crowded room.

Scientists have been meticulously investigating hearing loss for decades. The way that sound waves travel through the ear and how those waves are differentiated, due to this body of research, was believed to be well understood.

Scientists Identify The Tectorial Membrane

But the tectorial membrane wasn’t identified by scientists until 2007. 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 achieved by a mechanical filtering carried out by this membrane and that might be the most fascinating 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 response to vibrations. It was noted that the amplification produced by the membrane caused a different reaction to different frequencies of sound.

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 believe that more effective hearing aids that can better identify individual voices will be the result of this groundbreaking MIT study.

The Future of Hearing Aid Design

The basic principles of hearing aid design haven’t changed very much over the years. Adjustments and fine-tuning have helped with some enhancements, but the majority of hearing aids are essentially comprised of microphones that receive sounds and a loudspeaker that amplifies them. Unfortunately, that’s where one of the design’s shortcomings becomes evident.

Amplifiers, normally, are not able to discern between different frequencies of sounds, because of this, the ear gets increased levels of all sounds, including background noise. Another MIT scientist has long thought tectorial membrane research could result in new hearing aid designs that offer better speech recognition for users.

Theoretically, these new-and-improved hearing aids could functionally tune in to a specific frequency range, which would permit the user to hear isolated sounds such as a single voice. With this design, the volume of those sounds would be the only sounds amplified to aid in reception.

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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

The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.
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