Many people mistakenly believe that hearing aids correct hearing loss the way glasses correct vision loss, but sadly this is not the case… yet. Researchers are currently working on ways to improve hearing aids so that they can better address the cocktail party problem.
The cocktail party problem refers to how people with hearing loss have difficulty distinguishing one voice from another in social settings like Finn’s Irish Pub. Hearing aids with directional microphones work by amplifying the voice directly in front of the wearer, which is useful in many settings, but hearing aid wearers want more.
One group of researchers at the University of Rochester is examining how the cochlea works in hopes that it will lead to improvements in hearing aids.
How Do We Hear?
To understand this research, it’s important to know how we hear.
As soundwaves travel through the environment, they’re captured by the outer ear and funneled down into the ear canal, leading to the eardrum. As the soundwave hits the eardrum, it creates a vibration, which passes through three tiny bones within the middle ear called the malleus, incus and stapes. This vibration then reaches the fluid-filled cochlea within the inner ear, causing the fluid to move. The movement activates the tiny hair cells that line the cochlea called stereocilia, which creates an electrical impulse. The electrical impulse travels via the auditory nerve to the brain to be interpreted as sound.
What Does the Research Show?
The purpose of the study, led by Jong-Hoon Nam, is to determine the precise moment when sounds are converted into electrical impulses. This information could provide the basic science they need to design hearing aids capable of compensating for the unique ways hearing loss presents within each and every ear.
Here we have summarized some highlights of the findings of the study:
- The outer hair cells in the cochlea both amplify and reduce vibrations in order to enhance cochlear tuning.
- Researchers have created a computer model that can interpret and analyze how the response to one tone can be reduced by the presence of another tone in a healthy cochlea.
- Imbalances of a calcium ion that controls a variety of cellular processes, called Ca2+, can contribute to the creation of outer hair cells, particularly those responsible for high-frequency sounds.
- Extended silence could harm rather than help hearing health.
To learn more or to schedule an appointment, call Audiology Center of Maine today.