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Everything You Want to Know About Widex Hearing Aid and Tinnitus Technology

Senior Clinical Product Specialist, Michele Gerrish, explains some of the innovations in Widex technology and its impact on people with hearing loss and tinnitus.



Hi, I’m Jim Cuddy and this is Ask The Hearing Doctors. And I’m joined today by Dr. Ana Anzola, doctor of audiology with Hearing Doctors. The Washington DC area’s highest-rated audiology practice with over 1500, five-star reviews. Also joining us today, Michele Gerrish, doctor of audiology and Senior Clinical Product Specialist with Widex. Ana, Michele great to see you both. Thank you for having me.


And Michele before we get started learning a little bit about Widex tell us about your background in audiology. Okay, I’d be happy to. Um I have been an audiologist for over 20 years. And I have a variety of experiences from clinical working in hospitals, private practice ENTs, private practice audiology locations. As well as on the manufacturing side which is where I’m currently at.


And Michele tell us a little bit about the the history the background of Widex?


Sure so Widex was actually founded in 1956 by two Danish families and in fact the relatives of them still own Widex today. And we are located globally. Still in Denmark but locally our headquarters are in Hauppauge, New York.


That’s great! Now, what is Widex best known for?


I think in general we have always been known for innovation because we were the first company to introduce the 100% programmable instrument. We are the first company to introduce a 100% digital in the ear programmable instrument. We also as you know I think we’ll probably discuss later. We introduced the innovative Zen therapy program. And most recently we are the only company to use artificial intelligence with machine learning in our hearing aids. So I think innovation is a big part of what we are known for.


The other thing I think that we have a reputation for is kind of being a musician’s hearing aid or being a kind of an elite listener hearing aid. While I appreciate the support from musicians, from sound engineers, from you know audiophiles in general. I do believe we’re someone you know that a hearing aid that anyone can listen to. You don’t have to be in the industry to appreciate great sound quality.


Well I had a lot of other questions I wanted to ask you but you just brought up a bunch of things that I want to talk about now. Let’s start with Zen therapy what exactly is Zen therapy?


So as Ana definitely knows, tinnitus is a very common problem mostly for patients that have hearing loss but even for patients without any hearing loss. It is a buzzing, ringing, roaring sensation that a lot of people experience. And what they may not realize because they hear it they think it’s just an ear problem. But what is actually happening is it’s being processed throughout all different parts of the brain. And one very important part is the limbic system which is right next to the auditory cortex. So the limbic system is what gives the emotion right to experiences. So if someone hears that ringing, buzzing, roaring and now the brain does not recognize it, there’s a fight or flight association with it. So it ends up really bringing out a lot of anxiety, a lot of stress and a lot of fear in patients because they don’t know what it is. And there isn’t a lot of good information on how to correct for it.


So what Zen does different from everyone else is we don’t just try to cover it up we’re not masking the tinnitus we believe in more of a habituation system that will actually let the brain adapt to it and associate a different meaning to it. So we can break the cycle of stress and anxiety with the tinnitus. And we do that by introducing fractal fractal tones and we do it dichotically, so the tones are coming in each ear. So what the patient hears is a soothing music. It sounds like the kind of music you would hear if you were at a spa getting a massage. So it’s a soothing sound that de-escalates the stress while habituating the brain to the tinnitus. So that eventually the tinnitus can either be reduced to where it’s not noticeable or go away altogether.


And Ana you can certainly speak to this as somebody who has tinnitus. Yeah so exactly. So in the absence of a hearing loss, which is what I have, I suffer from tinnitus. And that’s the product and I’ve tried every product out there under the sun. And I find it so soothing. I hear my cicadas, because it’s a symphony of cicadas every day, but it’s mostly at night. During the day I’m too busy to even pay attention to it or I just find myself you know doing more for my patients than for myself but it doesn’t really bother me as much. But at night, it’s very soothing and I love it. It’s mostly one ear, so it could be in the absence of a hearing loss or you could have a hearing loss.


And with the Zen therapy I would imagine just like with anything there are probably different levels that people suffer from then and maybe is it always a soothing music or are there different types of sounds that that you would use?


So there’s it’s always yes and no. So there are seven different types of music and they actually correlate to different tempos so we kind of liken it too that’s pop music, that’s country, that’s Latin, that’s jazz. But we don’t want someone to select a sound based on maybe a musical style they like. When we have a patient listen to it it’s what is the most effective. It’s not so much what sounds you know snappy to you but what is the most effective in in making that tinnitus go away.


Now we also do have the option for noise so if someone has a more severe reaction to tinnitus they can turn the noise on for little parts of the day so maybe when they’re at work you know over lunchtime they could have the masking to kind of do an immediate cover up. But we don’t expect them to have that masking all day long. We can also turn off the microphone so if you’re like Ana where there’s no hearing loss the instrument can actually truly just be a Zen therapy instrument. And then if there is hearing loss associated with it you turn on the microphones and you set the hearing aids up to treat the hearing loss as you normally would.


As if I’m suffering from tinnitus and perhaps is it is it come and go? Is it something that I can control? In other words I can I can turn that music on and off if I need to?


Yes absolutely. So Ana would actually set it up however you want to use it. So it can be a separate program that you turn on when you need it and turn off when you don’t. Or it can be set up where it runs all day every day. We even have an app as well that have the tones so if you’re like Ana where you want to hear it at night but you don’t want to put an instrument in your ears you can actually put it through the speaker of your phone and you can hear it that way and there’s sleep timers as well. There’s also sleep techniques. There’s muscle relaxation. There’s meditation. So the app actually has a lot of different non-auditory kind of techniques that a patient can do to help treat their tinnitus. Because as we know and as I think I you know said it’s you know it’s not just about hearing you know it is accessing all areas of the brain and stress does play such a huge role in how someone is impacted by it. Yeah, I love my Zen, I really do I love it.


Why musicians? Why why why are musicians kind of the why do they prefer the Widex product? What is the musicians?


Right um because one of the focuses of Widex has always been sound quality. It has been the goal to one have the largest input range. So when you’re looking at a hearing aid uh you know some manufacturers will have what we call a knee point which is like the lowest level that it’s going to have the microphones pick up from the environment, some will have it at a higher level. And our philosophy has always been no, we need to have it as low as possible down to five as high as possible to 113 so we have the largest input range so that that microphone can actually pick up as much of the natural environment as possible. We want to you know if you think about like a window with drapes you know you don’t want to see just a sliver of the outside you want to have that wide open and see the entire what we call soundscape. So you want to see or hear everything. Once it’s certainly being processed you know then you know we can filter out the good and the bad.


But aside from having that large input range we also have the highest sampling rate at 33,000 so that is also going to mimic real sounds as naturally as possible. We also have the largest broadband frequency response as well. So for a musician it’s not always just about the limitation of speech you know the the waves of music has much higher peaks and much lower troughs then speech. The frequency response is much broader for music than speech. So we wanted to make sure that we were replicating music as naturally as possible and not compressing and not limiting what that patient can hear. So I think you know that is probably a huge part of what makes ours uh so popular with musicians.


And then on top of that we are also one of the fastest at 800 million operations per second. We have 2 million gates meaning a lot more is being processed simultaneously. We have four A/D converters so that means the hearing aid can actually process multiple things simultaneously

versus if there’s only one converter then something has to shut off for it to do something else. So I think it’s just such a multi-functional instrument that you know they’re able to enjoy music.


Ana how has this helped your patients?


Many ways. But you know you bring up an interesting point about musicians. So I’ve tried especially my musicians, they’re very critical listeners, right? And so they want things that may not be affected by other people but they’re looking for that type of sound, that quality. And I’ve tried different products on different people and the number one product that my musicians go for is the Widex. Yeah, absolutely. Its amazing. It sounds the most natural. It is.


Now let’s talk about some of the basic things, the care, um rechargeability, things like that. Tell us a little bit about how that works with Widex?


Okay so I think um similar to most hearing aids on the market uh you know there is a microphone, there is the chip that processes the the sound. So as you may know you know it’s an analog sound wave coming in then gets converted to a digital signal processed and then back to analog. So you know you want to make sure that the microphone is clean. You want to make sure the speaker where the sound is coming out of is clean. You want to keep them dry. So we are rated ip68 which is the highest rating that you can have for dust, debris, and moisture. So I mean certainly many patients have stepped into the shower or dropped it in the sink or you know and it’s been fine. So it’s not completely you know I don’t like people to be too worried I want them to go about their day as they naturally would but certainly if you see wax or debris you know wipe it off, keep it dry. And we do have a charger that will actually sanitize 99% of all bacteria and viruses as well as dry the instruments. So if you do get a rechargeable style it will not only charge but it will dry and sanitize as well and that keeps the instruments working.


That’s a great advantage to have. It is. We’re so thankful for that. Yeah. I’ll bet. I mean I we’ve talked in the past about about some of the things that people tend to do because you’re doing without thinking as you say you’re jumping into the shower it’s like oh I forgot my hearing aids are in that kind of thing.


Is there a remote care system from Widex?


Yep absolutely. Telehealth is very critical now. We introduced our remote care system prior to COVID. Thinking more of it being a convenience for seniors that aren’t driving anymore or you know rely on you know rides from either public transportation or adult children. And just the time consuming you know event that could be maybe just to change out a wax guard or maybe just for a small you know fine-tuning change. So we created a system where it is there’s a neck loop that is paired to the patient’s actual file not to their hearing aid but to their file and there’s an app on their smartphone. So all they do is they set up an appointment with Ana let’s say okay Thursday at two o’clock you get on your app and put this around your neck and then I’ll get on my computer. And what happens then is they see each other through the app and through the software and Ana can do everything that she could do if they were sitting right in front of her. There’s no barriers, there’s no hidden you know things blocked out or you know it’s not a half appointment it is a full appointment. And this way they don’t have to leave their home and she can still take care of you know any fine-tuning that’s necessary.


And then certainly once COVID did happen it became necessary for continued care because many people either health reasons could not come or you know if they were just they wanted to stay healthy you know would not come. So it was a great way for continued care even during the pandemic. And what’s nice about our system is the reason we actually have a neck loop is so that every single level of technology from your basic entry level hearing aid to your most premium hearing aid can be used using telehealth. And any technology in our software even if it’s five, six, seven, eight years old can be used. So it’s not just your Bluetooth. It’s not just your new instruments. And any style from CIC which is completely-in-the-canal to behind the ear. So every style, every family. every technology level Ana could support remotely if they needed it.


And in fact if I’m not mistaken you do a fair amount of remote support? Yeah and and our patients call upon you know us to be there at different times, you know even after hours. Um so it’s just nice to have that flexibility. You know I get to do it on a Saturday even if they want to. I think it’s important for us to be there for our patients at any time. Yeah and I think it’s great that you are. You’re you’re always available and that kind of thing and you’re always smiling you know so they feel good about it too.


Is Widex sold at big box stores?


No, we are feel very strongly not to be in big box stores and not to enter the over-the-counter market. We are absolutely an ally of the independent practitioner and that is because it is very critical for patients to get service. Hearing aids and this might sound funny coming from a manufacturer, but it’s not just about the gadget. Right? So we believe our gadget has the best technology in the world in there but if it’s not fit properly, if we don’t, if a patient doesn’t have Ana’s expertise then they don’t get the benefit of everything that that instrument has to offer. And I think what you know patients miss if they go to a big box store or they order over-the-counter is they don’t get the counseling that’s necessary. Hearing is a very emotional you know sense. It’s not like glasses where you correct it. I mean I think if it was just a matter of hitting a target. Oh we you know it’s audible now, you’re done that’d be one thing. But it’s not you know. There are preferences um people like to hear music really loud, some like to hear it really soft, some you know like things you know a little with a little more treble or a little more bass you know. There’s preferences to how people hear and what makes them happy.


There’s also the side of you know counseling when it comes to you know someone’s cognitive ability. You know and I know that Ana actually they put a great deal of effort into determining that. I know they have Cognivue here so I know that they are getting some information on how does this patient learn. What are some of the barriers to being successful that are not hearing related? And those are all things that they will not get at a big box store or over the counter. So I think to deny the value that an audiologist brings to the whole process is a is a big mistake. So Widex certainly wants to support the service side of the hearing aid industry.


I would imagine that your patients would find a level of comfort in that. That it’s not just I’m going to go, I’m going to buy this thing, I’m gonna stick it in my ear on my own and you know there not that great. Whereas I come to Hearing Doctors it’s a completely different experience.


It’s very different and so this is our chance to marry not just the science but there’s an art component to it. And my job, our job is to actually you know showcase your product and tell them how great it is. But they’ll never know the difference if if you were just doing it and you thought you’re doing a good job that’s one thing. But there’s no way to really validate or verify that. And this is our chance to really do it right. We don’t cut corners, we don’t want to. And really it’s just showcasing our expertise. We went to school for 10 years, it has some value and 25 years of experience that’s a big value. And my patients are looking for the best. They’re not looking to settle down. And at the big box store the person behind the counter may not necessarily be the person I need to talk to with any specific questions. Exactly. Yeah.


Now Michele, we talked about musicians preferring the Widex product, what about everybody else? Why should somebody choose Widex?


Well you know aside from all of the value that our hearing aids bring to music I don’t want to undervalue what it does for speech as well. And one of the greatest innovations that Widex has come up with with the new Moment hearing aid is our processing speed. So Widex is the only company that actually uses a time-based filter bank system to keep our processing speed low. So if you think about, I mentioned how sound is analog it gets converted to digital and back to analog, well typically that takes anywhere from four to eight milliseconds and that is something that people can hear. Especially if you have hearing loss that’s on the more mild to moderate side. You can hear that delay. It doesn’t sound like an echo but it sounds like artifact, it sounds like distortion, it sounds like an excessive amount of tinniness. For some people it sounds like kind of SHHH sound on top of it. And a large part of that is because as audiologists we’re fitting patients what we call more openly. So a very popular style is a receiver-over-the-ear canal and that means the what is in the ear is actually more open. So you now have sound coming in from your environment as well as sound coming in from the hearing aid. And in the ear canal now you have two inputs.


So now you’ve got what we call or what some in the sound industry call a cone filter effect. So we’ve got these waves that are competing with each other. So what Widex was able to do is actually improve our speed to 0.5 milliseconds. So now the speed I mean the sound inputs actually align. And we’ve been able to actually prove that at the brain stem level that they have the same amplitude and the same latency of a natural signal. So aligning that timing delay actually takes care of all of that extra distortion, all of that extra artifact. So it’s a completely clean signal. So if anyone is new to hearing aids or scared about it sounding artificial you know now they can try so it’s the Widex Moment hearing aid and Pure Sound is actually the technology that has that fast processing pathway. So I think it it’s the hearing aid that doesn’t actually sound like a hearing aid. Absolutely fascinating. Thank you for joining us today. Thank you for teaching us a little bit about Widex.  My pleasure. Ana as always thank you. Yes, thank you for having me.


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Dr. Ana Anzola, CCC-A, FAAA, ABA Principal

Dr. Anzola received her Doctorate degree in Audiology (AuD) from the Arizona School of Health Sciences, and her Master’s Degree in Audiology and her Bachelor's Degree in Speech Language Pathology and Audiology from Towson University. She has been a fellow of the American Academy of Audiology (AAA) since 1995, board-certified by the American Board of Audiology (ABA), and certified by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA).


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