Signia & Widex audiologists explore audio health technology

Audiologists Brian Taylor from Signia & Dana Helmink from Widex celebrate Better Hearing & Speech Month by telling us about audio health technology

Hi Brian and Dana! Please tell us about your background.

Brian Taylor: “I’ve had over 30 years of experience as a clinician, business manager, and university instructor in the hearing health and audiology industry following my graduation from Central Michigan University as a Doctor of Audiology. I currently work as the editor of Audiology Practices, a quarterly journal of the Academy of Doctors of Audiology, editor-at-large for Hearing Health and Technology Matters and as an adjunct instructor at the University of Wisconsin, in addition to my primary role as the Senior Director of Audiology for Signia.”

Dana Helmink: “I hold a doctor of audiology degree and have been a licensed audiologist for more than 20 years. I started my career in clinical practice, diagnosing and treating hearing loss with individuals of all ages, but I was fascinated with technology and found myself pulled toward career paths in product development, product management, user experience research and design, and professional education and training. For me, these roles have been a way to help hearing professionals help even more individuals who need hearing care. I currently serve as Sr. Director of Audiological Development for Widex USA. Widex is a natural fit for me. I love technology and Widex has, hands-down, some of the most groundbreaking technology in the industry. I’m very proud and privileged to help Widex explain its innovative solutions to hearing care providers.”

 

Please provide a bit of background on Signia & Widex. 

Brian Taylor: “Signia is one of the world’s leading hearing aid brands, aiming to enhance human performance through iconic innovations and consumer friendly designs. Signia proudly prioritises the needs of patients and hearing care practitioners (HCPs), offering customers unique, pioneering hearing aids. Today’s hearing aid wearers increasingly demand both cutting-edge functionality and premium, stylish design – Signia delivers on this demand by combining world’s first technologies that optimise both hearing performance and general health & wellness, packaged in an ultra-thin, highly attractive form-factor. Premium performance, functionality, and design represent the future of hearing aids, and Signia is delivering on that future. Signia also provides tools and apps to increase customer interaction and engagement at all levels of hearing aid management.”

 

Dana Helmink: “Widex is one of the largest and most well-respected hearing technology companies in the world. It was founded in 1956 as a small, family-owned business by two Danish families: Tøpholm and Westermann. The company is still owned by relatives of the original founders and its home office remains in Denmark.  

“Today, Widex hearing aids are sold in more than 100 countries and our company employs over 4,000 people worldwide. At Widex, natural sound lies at the heart of everything we do. While our hearing aids continue to evolve with modern innovations, we believe that quality sound is and will always be central to the user experience. 
“Natural sound enables a hearing aid wearer to react to external stimuli — the sounds of the environment, the voices of family and friends — so they can live life to the fullest. With each technical advancement we make at Widex, we inch closer to our ultimate achievement — sound so natural you can forget about your hearing loss.”

Tell us about Signia & Widex’s most recent technological developments for those with hearing loss.

Brian Taylor: “Signia regularly enhances existing hearing technology and launches new models with higher degrees of capability to ensure that all consumers can find a hearing aid that suits their individual needs. One of Signia’s newest models, Styletto AX, packs state-of-the-art technology into a hearing aid featuring a slim and stylish design that breaks down the stigma of wearing hearing aids. Boasting up to 20 hours of runtime per charge, Styletto AX features a pocket-size charging case that charges the hearing aids wirelessly for up to four additional days, making the process extremely convenient and discreet. The technology prioritises the wearer and allows for easier integration into a variety of lifestyles when users can charge their hearing aids anywhere, at home or on-the-go.

“All hearing aids on Signia’s recently updated Augmented Xperience (AX) platform also benefit from My WellBeing, a new capability that goes beyond better hearing to empower listeners to stay healthy in mind and body. Partnered with the Signia app, My WellBeing can actively track wearers level of social engagement (My Conversations), how consistently they are wearing their hearing aids (My WearTime), how many steps they’ve taken (My Steps), and level of physical activity. With My WellBeing, Signia has created an essential health tool to encourage consistent hearing aid use by bringing awareness to just how significant healthy hearing is to maintaining overall physical and mental fitness. 

“Signia technology is also optimised to support hearing in a variety of settings, including noisy, social environments. All consumers using Signia’s AX platform will benefit from Signia’s world’s first Augmented Focus™ split processing technology that processes speech and background separately to create a clear contrast between the two. It then recombines them to deliver outstanding speech clarity, catering to clear hearing even in the most challenging settings like bars or busy restaurants.”

 

Dana Helmink: “Last September, Widex introduced Widex Moment Sheer – its latest hearing technology solution that builds upon the proven benefits of Widex Moment to further enhance wearers’ lifestyles and wellbeing.

“Since launching in 2020, Widex Moment hearing aids have made it easier and more comfortable for wearers to hear, process, place and discern sounds in even the most complex environments. Widex Moment Sheer furthers those benefits to go beyond healthy hearing, to healthier living, with advanced technologies that not only overcome the challenges of hearing loss, but also the challenges of everyday life.

“At the core of Widex Moment Sheer is Widex PureSound with ZeroDelay. First introduced with Widex Moment, PureSound with ZeroDelay delivers the fastest sound processing available in a hearing aid, eliminating artificial sound while making it easier for wearers to discern speech and detect and place sounds around them. 

“In addition, Widex Moment Sheer features various new technologies that support overall wellbeing and enable greater engagement in life, including an enhanced version of our AI-based customisation tool: MySound. Accessible through the award-winning Widex Moment app, MySound combines the power of AI with wearer-intent so users can always hear what they want in various environments. With Widex Moment Sheer, we’ve added more parameters to our AI-powered Widex MySound™ technology – giving more control over every situation.

“Widex MySound includes two different AI-driven methods of sound personalisation. The Made for You method uses AI to collate the sound preferences of users all over the world and distill them into optimised recommendations for the user… instantly. For even greater personalisation, the wearer can engage with our Made by You option to indicate how much they prefer different sound settings in a series of A-B comparisons, a simple task that quickly and efficiently uses a powerful AI engine to create fully personalised settings. With the inclusion of compression preferences, the newest version of MySound includes over 10X more comparisons than the original iteration. 

“Widex Moment Sheer also debuts Widex SoundRelax, which leverages patented fractal tones or musical type sounds algorithmically generated within Widex hearing aids. First introduced for tinnitus patients through Widex Zen Therapy, we’ve expanded the tone choices and included new modulated wave-like sounds to help all wearers, with or without tinnitus, combat stress and sustain health. Given the direct correlation between hearing loss and stress, Widex SoundRelax gives users an all-in-one, seamless solution that helps them unwind and focus – while also alleviating tinnitus.

“On the hardware side, Widex recently introduced Widex Sound Assist, a six in one device designed to improve communication through partner and table microphone functionality, hands free phone calls, direct streaming from any Bluetooth® device, telecoil accessibility, and remote control of Widex Moment Sheer hearing aids.”

Why is hearing loss becoming more prevalent, particularly in young people? 

Brian Taylor: “Many younger people routinely wear wireless earbuds. Due to their proximity to the eardrum and the large number of hours per day these earbuds are worn, young people who wear them are susceptible to noise-induced hearing loss. Recent studies, in fact, indicate the prevalence of noise-induced hearing loss in young people is growing. This reflects the risk associated with listening to music at loud levels for ear hours per day with portable wireless earbuds.”

Dana Helmink: “Regardless of how mindful you are of your hearing health, the prevalence of hearing loss increases with age. Presbycusis, or age-related hearing loss, comes on gradually as a person gets older. It seems to run in families and may occur because of changes in the inner ear and auditory nerve. 

“However, according to the WHO, over 1bn young people risk losing their hearing due to prolonged and excessive exposure to loud music and other recreational sounds. The culprit is noise-induced hearing loss — which is preventable. When an individual is exposed to loud noise, tiny hair cells in their ears, which send signals to the brain, get damaged. As the ear’s hair cells flatten, people lose their hearing. 

“Noise-induced hearing loss can result from a one-time exposure to a very loud sound, blast, or impulse, or from listening to loud sounds over an extended period. Occupational and recreational activities that involve loud sounds can cause noise-induced hearing loss. Some occupational activities include using a jackhammer, working factory machinery or using a nail gun for carpentry without hearing protection. Some recreational activities include working on cars, riding dirtbikes, playing or listening to live music too loud or doing yard work with leaf blowers and lawnmowers without hearing protection. 

“For young people in particular, increased headphone and earbud usage is also becoming a major cause of NIHL. Listening to sounds of 100 dB can cause hearing damage with as little as 15 minutes of exposure. With most headphones at 80-100% volume routinely exceeding 100 dB, it’s important for people, especially younger people, to be more aware of how long they’re exposing themselves to loud sounds.”

 

What other health issues are associated with hearing loss? 

Brian Taylor: “Studies show there are links between hearing loss and depression, cardiovascular disease, dementia, and other conditions. Given that there are more than 1.5bn people globally experiencing hearing loss, it’s crucial for the masses to understand hearing is a general wellness problem that can lead to serious ramifications if left untreated. 

“For those at risk of PTSD – veterans, for example – tinnitus, the experience of a constant ringing in the ears often co-occurs with noise induced hearing loss, and is associated with higher rates of PTSD. In some cases, tinnitus may also impact traumatic flashbacks. 

“Generally, over time when hearing loss is unaddressed it gradually worsens. When sufferers constantly strain to hear and have trouble communicating, they may be more likely to withdraw from social situations, which adversely affects their mental health.”

Dana Helmink: “Many studies have emerged in the last decade linking hearing loss to other chronic health conditions. These linkages are often referred to as comorbidities, which can be defined as the simultaneous presence of two or more chronic conditions or diseases in a patient. Hearing loss is proven to be associated with comorbidities such as cardiovascular disorders, diabetes, falls, cognitive impairment and dementia. 

“The Lancet Commission (2020) concluded that 40% of dementia risk is attributable to 12 modifiable risk factors and hearing loss is the most significant of those. There is still much research to be done and questions to be answered, but evidence points to a strong link between untreated hearing loss and cognitive decline. One possible explanation is related to the impact of social isolation. It is difficult to be in a situation where you cannot hear others and misunderstand what’s being discussed. Individuals with untreated hearing loss who experience these situations often withdraw from their environments due to the frustration and embarrassment of not being able to communicate. 

“Furthermore, even mild hearing loss triples the risk of falling. This increased risk of falling is very concerning since falls can lead to emergency room visits, broken bones, brain injuries, hospitalisation, and increased death rates. It’s fair to say that hearing loss can have a detrimental effect on our overall health and well-being.”

Hearing health

What are some simple things we can do to stay on top of our hearing health? 

Brian Taylor: “In our daily routines, we can easily implement practices to make sure hearing health is prioritised. By keeping volume low when listening to music or talking on the phone, particularly when using headphones or earbuds, we can protect our ears from exposure to dangerously high levels of noise. Wearing hearing protection to drown out busy noise is also an effective way to protect hearing, especially when working in a crowded and/ or noisy environment. Additionally, getting your hearing checked regularly by a hearing care professional is a simple way to integrate hearing health into general wellness and medical routines.”

Dana Helmink: “Simply wearing hearing protection in excessively loud environments like concerts and sporting events helps prevent damage to those little hair cells mentioned earlier. It’s also important to wear hearing protection when you use loud lawn equipment or power tools. If you’re a musician or work in an industry that uses loud machinery or firearms (especially pistols or shotguns), you’ll also benefit from protecting your ears. 

“Additionally, turning down the volume on your earbuds and headphones is a simple change that makes a big difference. Generally, keeping volume levels around 75% or lower and taking occasional breaks are good ways to reduce the risk of hearing loss. If wearing headphones at 50-75% volume is not loud enough, wearers should consider a different pair or type of headphones that can provide the desired experience at a lower volume level and therefore would be safer to wear. 

“Finally, periodic hearing checks are the best way to ensure your ears are healthy. On average, adults with no hearing concerns should have their hearing tested at least every three years. Those who are persistently exposed to loud noise through either recreational or occupational activities should have their hearing tested more often, at least yearly or as specified by workplace guidelines, in addition to using hearing protection.

“Even mild hearing loss can impact overall health if left untreated, so addressing hearing loss is a critical component in staying healthy, living well, and living longer. Take a free online hearing test to find out if you might have hearing loss and what your next steps should be.”

 

If you’re diagnosed with hearing loss, what are the next steps for treatment?

Brian Taylor: “If you’re diagnosed with hearing loss, the first step is to visit a local hearing care practitioner to gain an understanding of the level of hearing care you require, and what your options are. Being equipped with the right hearing solutions will help greatly – modern solutions can dramatically improve a person's ability to hear and communicate in various settings, no matter what level of hearing loss you have. 

“Additionally, it’s important to take a holistic approach to hearing care in order to maintain general mental and physical fitness. Simply put, better hearing equates to better living. Those who are diagnosed with hearing loss should feel empowered to equip themselves with the solutions that will help them care for their hearing and improve their quality of life.”

Dana Helmink: “Early identification and treatment, including properly fitted hearing aids, mitigate the negative impacts of hearing loss. Hearing aids and compatible accessories today can improve a person with hearing loss’s ability to discern speech, enhance their communication in many areas, lower their risk of associated comorbidities and improve overall quality of life. With a wide array of styles, sizes, and features, hearing aids today are much more discreet and comfortable than they were in the past. Some prescription hearing aid models can even be custom-made to fit the patient’s ears. 
“Hearing aid technology has improved immensely in recent years as well. Widex hearing aids offer Bluetooth and streaming capabilities, and are rechargeable. Processors in today's hearing aids, like Widex Moment Sheer, are also able to learn, make decisions and adapt to your specific needs. Once diagnosed with hearing loss, your local audiologist or hearing care professional will fit you for top-of-the-line hearing aids that match your lifestyle and well-being needs. Click here if interested in finding your local hearing care provider.”

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