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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 mystifying mysteries, and the insight could result in the modification of the design of future hearing aids.

Results from an MIT study debunked the belief that neural processing is what lets us single out voices. Isolating specific levels of sound may actually be managed by a biochemical filter according to this study.

How Our Ability to Hear is Impacted by Background Noise

Only a small fraction of the millions of people who cope with 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, settings with lots of background noise have traditionally been an issue for individuals who wear a hearing improvement device. For instance, the constant buzz associated with settings like parties and restaurants can wreak havoc on a person’s ability to single out a voice.

Having a conversation with somebody in a crowded room can be stressful and frustrating and individuals who cope with hearing loss know this all too well.

Scientists have been closely investigating 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 Identified

However, it was in 2007 that scientists identified the tectorial membrane within the inner ear’s cochlea. The ear is the only place on the body you will find this gel-like membrane. What really fascinated scientists was how the membrane provides mechanical filtering that can decipher and delineate between sounds.

When vibration comes into the ear, the tiny tectorial membrane controls how water moves in response using small pores as it rests on little hairs in the cochlea. Researchers noted that different tones reacted differently to the amplification produced by the membrane.

The tones at the highest and lowest end of the spectrum seemed to be less affected by the amplification, but the study found strong amplification in the middle frequencies.

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

The Future of Hearing Aid Design

For years, the general design concepts of hearing aids have remained fairly unchanged. A microphone to pick up sound and a loudspeaker to amplify it are the general elements of hearing aids which, besides a few technology tweaks, have remained unchanged. Regrettably, that’s where one of the design’s drawbacks becomes clear.

All frequencies are increased with an amplification device and that includes background noise. Tectorial membrane research could, according to another MIT scientist, lead to new, state-of-the-art hearing aid designs which would provide better speech recognition.

The user of these new hearing aids could, theoretically, tune in to a specific voice as the hearing aid would be able to tune specific 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

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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