It’s a common misconception that hearing aids compensate for hearing loss the way eyeglasses compensate for poor vision. Instead, hearing aids amplify sounds to a level the wearer can easily detect. Rather than putting in your hearing aids and hearing perfectly the way you can put on glasses and see with 20/20 vision, it takes time for your ears and brain to re-learn how to process all the sounds around you.
Researchers are hopeful that their study of the cochlea will lead to improvements in hearing aids that will produce natural hearing and allow wearers to switch their focus between speakers.
The Cocktail Party Problem
The cocktail party problem describes the difficulty someone with hearing loss has in social settings like Ravina Brewing Company. While hearing aids are amazing devices that can boost communication between individuals and reduce sounds such as clanking dishes or city traffic, they tend to amplify all voices evenly, making it hard to pick out an individual voice from a crowd.
Some devices have directional microphones, which amplify the speaker directly in front of the wearer; however, this is not always the person whose voice you want in focus.
The Solution Lies in the Cochlea
A research team at the University of Rochester believes the answer to the cocktail party problem lies in the cochlea – an essential part of the inner ear containing sensory hair cells that convert soundwaves into electrical energy the brain interprets as sound. The researchers are aiming to uncover the exact moment when that conversion occurs, which could provide the basic science needed for hearing aids to become fully capable of compensating for the unique ways hearing loss presents in each individual ear.
So far, the research team, funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Science Foundation (NSF), has uncovered the following:
- The hair cells in the cochlea not only amplify but also reduce, vibrations to enhance cochlear tuning.
- A computer model that is used to interpret and analyze how the cochlea’s response to one tone can be reduced by the presence of another tone if the cochlea is healthy.
- Simulations that show how imbalances of CA2+, a calcium ion that controls several cellular processes, contribute to making these sensory hair cells vulnerable to damage.
- Extended silence could harm, rather than help, hearing health.
For more information about this study or to schedule an appointment with a hearing aid expert, call North Shore Audio-Vestibular Lab today.