HEARING TIPS

“Researchers

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

Results from an MIT study debunked the idea that neural processing is what lets us pick out voices. According to the study, it may actually be a biochemical filter that allows us to tune in to individual sound levels.

How Our Ability to Hear is Impacted by Background Noise

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

Although a hearing aid can give a significant boost to one’s ability to hear, settings with lots of background noise have traditionally been a problem for individuals who use a hearing improvement device. For example, the steady buzz surrounding settings like restaurants and parties can wreak havoc on a person’s ability to single out a voice.

If you’re someone who is experiencing hearing loss, you most likely understand how frustrating and stressful it can be to have a personal conversation with someone in a crowded room.

Scientists have been closely investigating hearing loss for decades. Due to 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 Discovered

But the tectorial membrane wasn’t identified by scientists until 2007. The ear is the only place on the body you will see this gel-like membrane. What really fascinated scientists was how the membrane supplies mechanical filtering that can decipher and delineate between sounds.

When vibration enters the ear, the tiny tectorial membrane manages how water moves in reaction using small pores as it sits on little hairs in the cochlea. Researchers observed that different tones reacted differently to the amplification produced by the membrane.

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

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

Hearing Aid Design of The Future

The fundamental principles of hearing aid design haven’t changed very much over the years. Tweaks and fine-tuning have helped with some enhancements, but most hearing aids are basically made up of microphones which receive sounds and a loudspeaker that amplifies them. This is, unfortunately, where the shortcoming of this design becomes obvious.

Amplifiers, normally, are unable to differentiate between different levels of sounds, which means the ear gets increased levels of all sounds, that includes background noise. Another MIT researcher has long thought tectorial membrane research could lead to new hearing aid designs that provide better speech recognition for wearers.

In theory, these new-and-improved hearing aids could functionally tune in to a specific frequency range, which would allow the wearer to hear isolated sounds such as 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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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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