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

One of hearing loss’s most puzzling mysteries might have been solved by scientists from the famous Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and the future design of hearing aids may get an overhaul in line with their findings.

Findings from an MIT study debunked the notion that neural processing is what allows us to pick out voices. Tuning into individual sound levels might actually be managed by a biochemical filter according to this study.

How Background Noise Impacts Our Ability to Hear

While millions of individuals battle hearing loss, only a fraction of them try to overcome that hearing loss with the use of hearing aids.

Though a major boost in one’s ability to hear can be the outcome of using a hearing aid, those who wear a hearing-improvement device have traditionally still had trouble in environments with copious amounts of background noise. For example, 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 discussion with somebody in a crowded room can be stressful and frustrating and individuals who deal with hearing loss know this all too well.

For decades scientists have been studying hearing loss. 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

But the tectorial membrane wasn’t identified by scientists until 2007. 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 accomplished by a mechanical filtering carried out by this membrane and that may be the most intriguing thing.

Minute in size, the tectorial membrane rests on tiny hairs within the cochlea, with small pores that manage how water moves back and forth in response to vibrations. 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 appeared to be less affected by the amplification, but the study found strong amplification among the middle tones.

It’s that progress that leads some scientists to believe MIT’s groundbreaking breakthrough could be the conduit to more effective hearing aids that ultimately enable better single-voice identification.

Hearing Aid Design of The Future

The basic principles of hearing aid design haven’t changed much over the years. Adjustments and fine-tuning have helped with some enhancements, but the majority of hearing aids are essentially made up of microphones that pick up sounds and a loudspeaker that amplifies them. Regrettably, that’s where one of the design’s shortcomings becomes apparent.

Amplifiers, normally, are not able to differentiate between different frequencies of sounds, because of this, the ear receives boosted levels of all sounds, that includes background noise. Tectorial membrane research could, according to another MIT researcher, lead to new, state-of-the-art hearing aid designs which would offer better speech recognition.

In theory, these new-and-improved hearing aids could functionally tune in to a distinct frequency range, which would enable the user to hear isolated sounds like 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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