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

Researchers at the famous Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) may have cracked the code on one of hearing’s most mystifying mysteries, and the revelation could result in the modification of the design of future hearing aids.

The long standing notion that voices are isolated by neural processing has been debunked by an MIT study. Tuning into individual levels of sound may actually be managed by a biochemical filter according to this study.

How Background Noise Effects Our Ability to Hear

Only a small fraction of the millions of people who cope with hearing loss actually use hearing aids to deal with it.

Though a major boost in one’s ability to hear can be the result of using a hearing aid, people that use a hearing-improvement device have commonly still struggled in environments with copious amounts of background noise. A person’s ability to discriminate voices, for example, can be severely limited in settings like a party or restaurant where there is a constant din of background noise.

If you’re a person who suffers from hearing loss, you most likely know how frustrating and upsetting it can be to have a one-on-one conversation with someone in a crowded room.

Scientists have been meticulously studying hearing loss for decades. Due to those efforts, the way that 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 Discovered

However, it was in 2007 that scientists discovered the tectorial membrane within the inner ear’s cochlea. You won’t find this microscopic membrane composed of a gel-like substance 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.

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

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

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 basic design principles of hearing aids have remained rather unchanged. Adjustments and fine-tuning have helped with some enhancements, but the majority of hearing aids are basically comprised of microphones that receive sounds and a loudspeaker that amplifies them. Regrettably, that’s where one of the design’s shortcomings becomes apparent.

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

The user of these new hearing aids could, theoretically, tune in to a specific voice as the hearing aid would be able to tune distinct frequencies. With this design, the volume of those sounds would be the only sounds amplified to aid in reception.

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