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 revelation could result in the overhauling of the design of future hearing aids.

Findings from an MIT study debunked the notion that neural processing is what lets us pick out voices. Isolating individual 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 individuals battle hearing loss, only a fraction of them attempt to deal with that hearing loss using hearing aids.

Though a significant boost in one’s ability to hear can be the result of wearing a hearing aid, settings with a lot of background noise have typically been an issue for people who use a hearing improvement device. For instance, the continuous buzz surrounding settings like parties and restaurants can wreak havoc on a person’s ability to single out a voice.

If you’re a person who is afflicted with hearing loss, you very likely understand how annoying and upsetting it can be to have a personal conversation with someone in a crowded room.

For decades scientists have been studying hearing loss. As a result of 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.

Scientists Identify The Tectorial Membrane

But the tectorial membrane wasn’t discovered by scientists until 2007. You won’t see this microscopic membrane made of a gel-like material in any other parts of the body. The deciphering and delineation of sound is accomplished by a mechanical filtering performed by this membrane and that might be the most fascinating thing.

Minuscule in size, the tectorial membrane sits on little hairs inside the cochlea, with small pores that control how water moves back and forth in reaction to vibrations. Researchers observed that different tones reacted differently to the amplification made by the membrane.

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

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

The fundamental principles of hearing aid design haven’t changed much over the years. A microphone to detect sound and a loudspeaker to amplify it are the general elements of hearing aids which, besides a few technology tweaks, have remained the same. This is, unfortunately, where the drawback of this design becomes obvious.

Amplifiers, usually, are not able to discern between different frequencies of sounds, which means the ear gets increased levels of all sounds, that includes background noise. Tectorial membrane research could, according to another MIT researcher, result in new, state-of-the-art hearing aid designs which would offer better speech recognition.

The user of these new hearing aids could, in theory, tune in to an individual 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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