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 famous Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and the insight could lead to the modification of the design of future hearing aids.

The long standing belief that voices are isolated by neural processing has been debunked by an MIT study. Isolating individual sound levels may actually be handled by a biochemical filter according to this study.

How Our Ability to Hear is Affected by Background Noise

While millions of people fight hearing loss, only a fraction of them try to combat that hearing loss using hearing aids.

Though a major boost in one’s ability to hear can be the outcome of wearing a hearing aid, environments with a lot of background noise have traditionally been a problem for people who wear a hearing improvement device. For example, the steady buzz surrounding settings like restaurants and parties can wreak havoc on a person’s ability to discriminate a voice.

If you’re a person who is experiencing hearing loss, you very likely know how annoying and stressful it can be to have a one-on-one conversation with somebody in a crowded room.

For decades scientists have been investigating hearing loss. The way that sound waves move through the ear and how those waves are differentiated, due to this body of research, was thought to be well understood.

Scientists Identify The Tectorial Membrane

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. The deciphering and delineation of sound is achieved by a mechanical filtering performed by this membrane and that might be the most intriguing thing.

Minuscule in size, the tectorial membrane rests on little hairs inside the cochlea, with small pores that manage how water moves back and forth in response to vibrations. It was observed that the amplification produced by the membrane caused a different reaction to different frequencies of sound.

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

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

Hearing Aid Design of The Future

For years, the basic design concepts of hearing aids have remained relatively unchanged. A microphone to detect sound and a loudspeaker to amplify it are the basic elements of hearing aids which, besides a few technology tweaks, have remained the same. Unfortunately, that’s where one of the design’s drawbacks becomes apparent.

Amplifiers, usually, are not able to discern between different levels of sounds, which means the ear receives boosted levels of all sounds, including background noise. Tectorial membrane research could, according to another MIT scientist, result in 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 specific frequency range, which would enable the user to hear isolated sounds like a single voice. Only the desired frequencies would be boosted with these hearing aids and everything else would be left alone.

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