How Research Helps You Hear

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

One of hearing loss’s most perplexing mysteries may have been solved by scientists from the famed Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and the future design of hearing aids might get an overhaul based on their findings.

Results from an MIT study debunked the notion that neural processing is what allows us to single out voices. According to the study, it might actually be a biochemical filter that enables us to tune in to specific 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 combat that hearing loss with the use of hearing aids.

Though a hearing aid can give a significant boost to one’s ability to hear, environments with a lot of background noise have typically been a problem for people 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.

If you’re a person who is experiencing hearing loss, you most likely know 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. 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 Discovered

But the tectorial membrane wasn’t identified by scientists until 2007. You won’t see 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 minute 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 made by the membrane.

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

It’s that development that leads some scientists to believe MIT’s groundbreaking discovery could be the conduit to more effective hearing aids that ultimately allow for better single-voice recognition.

The Future of Hearing Aid Design

The basic 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. Regrettably, that’s where one of the design’s shortcomings becomes apparent.

Amplifiers, normally, are unable to discern between different frequencies of sounds, because of this, the ear receives boosted levels of all sounds, that includes background noise. Another MIT researcher has long believed tectorial membrane research could lead to new hearing aid designs that provide better speech recognition for users.

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 concept, the volume of those sounds would be the only sounds boosted to aid in reception.

Have Questions About Hearing Loss?

If you’re going through some form of hearing loss, call us. Getting you the information you need about hearing loss and the benefits of using hearing aids is our purpose.


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