HEARING TIPS

“Researchers

One of hearing loss’s most puzzling mysteries may have been solved by scientists from the famous Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and the revelation could result in the overhauling of the design of future hearing aids.

Findings from an MIT study debunked the idea that neural processing is what lets us single out voices. According to the study, it might actually be a biochemical filter that enables us to tune in to individual sound levels.

How Our Ability to Hear is Affected by Background Noise

While millions of people battle hearing loss, only a fraction of them try 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 that wear a hearing-improvement device have traditionally still struggled in settings with copious amounts of background noise. For example, the steady buzz associated with settings like parties and restaurants can wreak havoc on a person’s ability to discriminate a voice.

If you’re a person who is experiencing hearing loss, you very likely understand how annoying and stressful it can be to have a one-on-one conversation with somebody in a crowded room.

Scientists have been closely investigating hearing loss for decades. 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.

The Tectorial Membrane is Identified

However, it was in 2007 that scientists identified the tectorial membrane within the inner ear’s cochlea. You won’t find this microscopic membrane composed of a gel-like material in any other parts of the body. What really fascinated scientists was how the membrane supplies mechanical filtering that can decipher and delineate between sounds.

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. It was noted that the amplification produced by the membrane caused a different reaction to different tones.

The tones at the highest and lowest range appeared to be less affected by the amplification, but the study found strong amplification in the middle frequencies.

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

Hearing Aid Design of The Future

For years, the general design concepts of hearing aids have remained fairly unchanged. Adjustments and fine-tuning have helped with some improvements, but the majority of hearing aids are basically made up of microphones that pick up sounds and a loudspeaker that amplifies them. Unfortunately, that’s where one of the design’s drawbacks becomes apparent.

All frequencies are boosted with an amplification device and that includes background noise. Tectorial membrane research could, according to another MIT scientist, result in new, innovative hearing aid designs which would offer better speech recognition.

The user of these new hearing aids could, theoretically, tune in to an individual voice as the hearing aid would be able to tune distinct frequencies. Only the chosen frequencies would be amplified 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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