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.

Results from an MIT study debunked the idea that neural processing is what lets us pick out voices. Tuning into specific sound levels may actually be managed by a biochemical filter according to this study.

How Our Ability to Hear is Affected by Background Noise

While millions of people battle hearing loss, only a fraction of them try to combat that hearing loss using hearing aids.

Though a major boost in one’s ability to hear can be the outcome of wearing a hearing aid, those who wear a hearing-improvement device have typically still had trouble in settings with a lot of background noise. A person’s ability to single out voices, for example, can be seriously limited 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 frustrating and individuals who suffer from 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 believed to be well understood.

Scientists Identify The Tectorial Membrane

However, it was in 2007 that scientists discovered the tectorial membrane within the inner ear’s cochlea. You won’t see 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 fascinating thing.

When vibration enters the ear, the tiny tectorial membrane controls how water moves in response using small pores as it sits on little hairs in the cochlea. It was noted that the amplification produced by the membrane caused a different reaction to different frequencies of sound.

The middle tones were shown to have strong amplification and the frequencies at the lower and higher ends of the spectrum were less impacted.

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

Hearing Aid Design of The Future

For years, the basic design principles of hearing aids have remained rather unchanged. A microphone to pick up sound and a loudspeaker to amplify it are the basic elements of hearing aids which, besides a few technology tweaks, have remained the same. This is, unfortunately, where the shortcoming of this design becomes apparent.

All frequencies are boosted with an amplification device and that includes background noise. Another MIT researcher has long believed tectorial membrane exploration could result in new hearing aid designs that provide better speech recognition for wearers.

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

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