The world of Widex
The prickly problem of
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The world of Widex
The prickly problem of
Many people will be familiar with tinnitus and many of us will unfortunately
experience some of its effects – ringing, buzzing, or other sounds in your
ears – at some stage. And it is estimated that around 250 million people
worldwide suffer from tinnitus. But there is help at hand. This issue of
LISTEN looks at the challenges facing tinnitus sufferers and the solutions
that can help, from a new tinnitus management device to yoga exercises.
Earlier this year Widex won the prestigious European Inventor Award,
known as the ‘Oscars’ of the patent world, for our CAMISHA technology
– a ground-breaking method of manufacturing customised hearing aid
shells. We speak to winners of the award, as well as the man behind many
of Widex’ successful patents.
Some professions are more at risk than others when it comes to noise
exposure; LISTEN takes a closer look at the evidence regarding soldiers and
aviation workers being exposed to high levels of noise. Someone who was
exposed to noise in his career is a Scottish hearing aid user who tells how
Widex has helped him enjoy life again.
On a lighter note, we ponder whether Beethoven’s masterful music would
have been different if he hadn't had a hearing loss, investigate the world of
silent films in the light of the success of Oscar-winning film ‘The Artist’, and
ask where exactly are ears on a whale?
Since its launch in 2008, LISTEN has gone from strength to strength and
is now published in seven languages and more than 100 countries. We are
always pleased to hear from readers, so if you have any comments at all,
drop us a line at [email protected]
The Editorial Team
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Spiky: the striking cover image
is taken by highly acclaimed
American photographer Andrew
Zuckerman. It comes from the
best-selling book CREATURE, a
compendium of intimate animal
portraits set against Zuckerman’s
signature white background.
For more information, see
Managerial Editor
Peter Hentze Knudsen
[email protected]
Jeanette Blom
[email protected]
Andrew Somerville
[email protected]
Julie Bauer Larsen
[email protected]
Isabella Y. Jespersen
[email protected]
Robin Miller
[email protected]
Simon Brookes
[email protected]
Stephanie Bergeron Kinch
[email protected]
Graphic Design
Marianne Kim Noel
[email protected]
Listen – The world of Widex
Cover © Andrew Zuckerman
Science and health
8Plane speaking
12The prickly problem of tinnitus
Research and technology
22Let’s hear it for the whale
28Buyers beware
30The value of bright ideas
50Testing, testing
4Meet a future Olympian
42Bringing harmony to the home
Society and culture
24Da da da daaah!
38Hearing loss is not a game
46Silence is golden
52A hidden health disaster
56Helping the less privileged
Listen – The world of Widex
Photograph: Ken Crook
Listen – The world of Widex
Jack is striving to become an Olympic champion in the years to come
– helped along the way by the very latest Widex technology.
Listen – The world of Widex
Photograph: Getty Images
One of the most recognized symbols of the Olympic Games, the Olympic flame was originally used in ancient Greece, where it was believed to have
sacred qualities. English designer Thomas Heatherwick made the cauldron, consisting of 204 copper petals in 10 rings, for the London Olympics.
London 2012 was big. Very big. Hundreds of thousands of
visitors from around the world watched great sport in great
venues. Millions, if not billions, watched on TV. One of the most
successful parts of the Olympics, and that drew the largest
‘live’ audience, was the torch relay.
But this could be just the start of Jack’s connection to the
Olympics. He is one of the UK’s leading junior judokas – that’s
a person who practises Judo to you and me. He’s already won
a gold medal in the Commonwealth Junior Judo competition in
Cardiff in 2012.
Over 70 days and 12,000 kilometres across all parts of the UK,
an estimated 10.2 million people lined the streets to see the
Olympic torch being carried through their local communities.
It was carried by celebrities, athletes, and ordinary people
nominated by their own neighbours and friends. One of them
was 16-year-old Widex wearer Jack Hodgson.
His ambition is to represent his country in the Rio Paralympics in 2016. “The Paralympic Manager has been monitoring
me for about 12 months. I will start training with the squad
soon and have been accepted for the Paralympic Inspiration
Against the odds
Carrying the flame
Jack was a torch bearer in Lincolnshire. The young and promising athlete was nominated by a charity he supports, and by
his mum. Was it an exciting experience? “I was overwhelmed
when I was selected. I ran with the torch for 300 metres - and I
loved every second!” says Jack.
Listen – The world of Widex
His Judo achievements and ambitions would be amazing for
any teenager but Jack is doing this at the same time as coping
with a genetic condition – known as Usher syndrome - that affects both sight and hearing.
“Jack has a profound hearing loss [affecting both ears] and he
also has very limited sight,” comments his audiologist Lorraine
Tipler from Hearing Help Ltd near Lincoln. She has provided
him with Widex SUPER440 BTE’s and a range of Widex
accessories including the M-DEX and TV-DEX assistive listening devices.
So how have his new hearing aids helped with his ambition
to be an Olympian? “They are so much better for Judo than
my old ones – which used to cut out all the time after about
two minutes! I can now do full sessions, which last a couple
of hours, with no problems at all. They have helped me to
improve my Judo because I can hear the instructions from the
coaches now and can follow what is going on.”
There have been tangible benefits at home too – especially for
Jack’s mum Nicky. “I am much more responsive at home when
mum shouts for me.” Now that’s something that every mother
of teenage kids would appreciate.
What is Usher syndrome?
A syndrome is a disease or disorder that has more than one
feature or symptom. The major symptoms of Usher syndrome are
hearing loss and an eye disorder called retinitis pigmentosa (RP).
RP causes night-blindness and a loss of peripheral vision.
Who is affected?
3-6% of all children who are deaf and another 3-6% of children
who are hard-of-hearing have Usher syndrome. In developed
countries, four babies in every 100,000 births have Usher syndrome.
What are the causes?
Usher syndrome is genetic.
For further information:
Hearing in style
Jack also likes the look of his new Widex hearing aids, something that his friends and family have all commented on. “They
look so much better than my last ones.”
The Widex M-DEX, which is a user-friendly device for managing mobile phones, has proved a big hit too. “It connects to
my phone and is fab. I can now have a telephone conversation
in private, which I could never do before as I had to have it on
speakerphone all the time.”
His mum has been impressed. “Jack hears so many more
things now, and the aids look so much better as well. The
added accessories have also been great – his speech on the
mobile phone is so much better with the use of the M-DEX. At
home he is much more responsive and we don’t have to repeat
so much for him. And with the TV-DEX he can also be tuned to
the TV and still hear us calling him.”
Photograph: Ken Crook
Jack has a long slog – in terms of training and competing - to
get to his goal of Rio 2016. As part of that preparation he
hopes to compete in the next Commonwealth Games in
Glasgow in 2014. We will be keeping an eye on his progress
and reporting on it in future editions of LISTEN.
To find out more, see
Listen – The world of Widex
Section and
Plane Speaking
Photograph: Getty Image
Photograph: iStockphoto
Are aviation workers losing their hearing?
Listen – The world of Widex
Listen – The world of Widex
Science and health
While there have been vast improvements in noise protection for aviation workers – cabin attendants, pilots,
mechanics, and other airline personnel must still endure high levels of noise for upwards of 40 hours a week.
LISTEN takes a closer look.
The whir of an aircraft engine and the roar of takeoff are business as usual for commercial airline pilot Cpt. Mike Cottell, who
has been working as a commercial pilot for 25 years, clocking
15,000 flight hours. While the job has its benefits, one of its
most unpleasant side effects is hearing loss.
“Guys nearing the end of their career sometimes have logged
up to 30,000 flight hours. When you convert that into years,
it’s almost 4 years of permanent exposure to elevated noise
levels,” he says.
This constant noise exposure can be dangerous for aviation workers. Pilots, cabin attendants, mechanics, and baggage handlers all spend a lot of their time on the job in noisy
environments. Most now have some protection from blaring
jet engines, but an earlier generation of airline workers didn’t –
and they’re paying for it now.
A study by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics listed the airline
industry was second only to metal manufacturing for having the highest hearing loss rate of all professions. The report
notes that, “occupations such as baggage handlers, mechanics,
and service technicians make up a substantial proportion of
employment in this industry. These types of workers experience loud noises from aircraft and are thus susceptible to
occupational hearing loss.”
Prolonged exposure
Just how much noise are people working with airplanes
exposed to? Purdue University researchers measured that the
sound from a jet taking off at 25 metres away is 150 dB – a
sound capable of rupturing an eardrum*. A jet takeoff at 305
metres had a significantly lower sound level at 100 dB, but was
still said to have the potential to cause serious hearing damage when exposed to it for an 8-hour period, which is common
for baggage handlers and runway workers. In comparison,
researchers measured a conversation in a restaurant at only 60
10 Listen – The world of Widex
Cottell says that many older pilots from the 1960s and 1970s
now have hearing problems because they did not wear
protection during flight or when doing walk-arounds for their
preflight procedures. The iconic Boeing 727, one of the more
popular aircraft of the time, was notorious for being particularly noisy.
It isn’t just pilots who have suffered from prolonged noise
exposure. Baggage handlers and mechanics, who work outside
the aircraft, are exposed to even higher levels of noise than
pilots are.
In 2009, a baggage handler with Air Canada successfully
sued the airline for hearing loss he said he had received from
excessive noise exposure while handling baggage as aircraft
engines were still on. He also claimed that noisy conveyor belts
contributed to the loss.
A study conducted in 2011 among 327 aircraft maintenance
workers in Sweden confirms this risk*. It showed that the aircraft workers - all under the age of 40 - had more hearing loss
than a reference population not exposed to occupational noise.
Noise protection
Today, research is being done to equip airplanes with “active
noise control” technology that greatly reduces noise in the
entire cabin. The technology works by producing a pressure
wave of equal amplitude that is opposite to the unwanted
sound. When this wave is added, the result is a quieter aircraft
cabin. It’s the same technology that is used in noise-cancelling
headsets, and can be used in the bigger space of an airplane
What’s more, much of the excessive noise from airplanes is
now filtered out with ear plugs and communication headsets.
The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Association requires
that personal hearing protection be worn for workplace noise
Science and health
Photograph: iStockphoto
over 85 decibels. Rob Hunter, head of flight safety for the British Airline Pilots Association, says that pilot hearing loss isn’t
as much of a concern now that ear protection is the norm.
According to Hunter, research suggests that pilots are prone to
getting hearing loss in only one ear, because cockpit communication headsets are typically only worn on one side. Now pilots
are encouraged to wear headsets that cover both ears.
“From the pilot’s perspective, aircraft are no longer as noisy as
they were,” he concludes.
Despite such improvements, pilots and other aviation workers still need to take the risk of noise exposure seriously. “It’s
about long-term exposure,” Cottell says. “Prevention is the key
these days and that all comes under the auspices of occupational health and safety.”
Photograph: iStockphoto
* Smedje G, Lundén M, Gärtner L, Lundgren H, Lindgren T. Hearing status among
aircraft maintenance personnel in a commercial airline company. Noise Health
Adequate protection is essential, not just for ground staff but for all
aviation workers.
Listen – The world of Widex
Science and health
Photograph: Andrew Zuckerman
What is tinnitus?
Tinnitus is the perception of sound that’s heard in one or both ears for
which there’s no external source. While commonly described as a ringing in the ears, the sounds may also include roaring, clicking, hissing, or
buzzing. The perception of tinnitus is individual.
Although tinnitus is heard in the ears, it stems from the neural circuits
in the brain that make sense of the sounds we hear. We don’t really
know what happens in the brain to create the illusion of sound when
there is none.
12 Listen – The world of Widex
fo m
Science and health
obm of
The Prickly problem of
Tinnitus can vary in severity from being a simple annoyance to a debilitating condition that affects your ability
to hear and interact with the world. But it isn’t a lost cause. We offer a short guide to help – from therapy to
yoga to the new tinnitus management device ZEN2GO from Widex.
Is ringing, buzzing or other sounds in your ears causing you to
lose sleep, have trouble concentrating, and lose interest in your
social life?
computer programs, and mobile phone apps offer sound
therapy programmes that lessen the effects of tinnitus, and
counselling and support groups can offer emotional support.
You’re not alone. According to the Better Hearing Institute
(BHI) nearly 30 to 50 million people in the United States suffer
from tinnitus. Forty-two percent of those sufferers also have
hearing loss and, according to the same BHI study, many of
them haven’t sought help for either problem. Worldwide, it is
estimated that 250 million people suffer from tinnitus.
Lack of control
“A lot of patients are misinformed by their primary care
physicians that nothing can be done for tinnitus and that they
should just go home and learn to live with it,” says Jennifer
Born, Director of Public Affairs at the American Tinnitus Association.
While it’s true that there isn’t a cure for tinnitus, much can be
done to make the ringing, buzzing, or whooshing in your ears a
lot less annoying. Hearing aids, tinnitus management devices,
For many, tinnitus is an annoyance that comes sporadically.
For others, the condition can be so extreme that it begins to
take away from their daily lives. According to Richard Tyler,
a University of Iowa professor who specialises in tinnitus, the
most common side effects are emotional stress, hearing loss,
sleep disturbances and difficulty concentrating.
Richard Tyler says that mild hearing loss sufferers are often
able to cope with their loss by withdrawing from social situations or giving the illusion that their hearing is fine. With
tinnitus it isn’t that easy. In the BHI survey, 22 percent of
respondents described their tinnitus as “disabling” or “nearly
disabling”, and nearly 40 percent said they experienced their
tinnitus 80 percent or more of the day.
Listen – The world of Widex 13
Science and health
How to get help
There are several online resources available for tinnitus
sufferers. Here are a few that can provide factual information, emotional support, and ways to get help for ongoing
The American Tinnitus Association offers a wealth of information and an online forum for tinnitus sufferers on their
The British Tinnitus Association also offers information on
new research, support groups, and products available for
tinnitus sufferers at:
The Australian Tinnitus Association has a list of support
groups and more information on their website: http://www.
Online health support group provider DailyStrength offers
support groups for both hearing loss and tinnitus at: http://
Hearing aids with Widex Zen options can offer relief from
tinnitus. Read more at:
14 Listen – The world of Widex
Science and health
“You don’t have control over it,” he says. “People are aware
that there are hearing aids for it but they are reluctant to come
forth and get help for it.”
Gemma Twitchen, an audiologist with the UK’s Action on Hearing Loss, says that support groups are an effective way for
tinnitus sufferers to find others in similar situations who can
provide guidance and reassurance.
Physical relief
According to Richard Tyler, all hearing aids are helpful for
tinnitus sufferers. Once someone is fitted with a hearing aid,
their communication skills improve. This reduces the stress
of listening intently and given that stress is often a factor in
tinnitus, a more calm and relaxed lifestyle can naturally relieve
symptoms. In the BHI study, 43 percent of respondents said
that their hearing aids mitigated the effects of their tinnitus.
Some hearing aids can also be outfitted with sound programs like Widex Zen that help in relaxation and mask tinnitus
sounds. When these programs are used in a hearing aid, tones
are amplified to suit an individual’s level of hearing loss. Users
can choose when the programs are on and can use them without anyone noticing. That gives them the advantage of helping
their hearing and their tinnitus.
“By doing group sessions it’s a lot more beneficial,” says
Twitchen. “A lot of those people only need to see the group
once or twice to get the help they need.”
Group sessions don’t always have to be done in person. Several online support groups are available through the American
Tinnitus Association, The British Tinnitus Association, and
other social media outlets.
For individual counselling, hearing health professionals can
provide basic counselling services, and psychologists and
therapists can been seen for further help. National tinnitus
organizations like the American Tinnitus Association or the
British Tinnitus Association also offer helplines for those suffering from tinnitus to get further help.
Richard Tyler says that hearing aids are often perceived as
being expensive and annoying, but the cost benefit of having
better hearing and less stress makes hearing aids seem “incredibly inexpensive” to him. “We don’t nurture the fact that
hearing and communication is such an essential part of our
lifestyle and so important,” he says.
Greater awareness
However, more than half of those with tinnitus do not have
hearing loss. For them, various treatment options are available,
such as sound therapy programmes for MP3 players, computers and smartphones. And Widex has just launched ZEN2GO,
a tinnitus management device that helps people manage their
tinnitus (see next page).
Celebrities like William Shatner and Chris Martin from Coldplay have also increased awareness by speaking publically
about their battles with tinnitus, and national campaigns have
focused on preventing tinnitus by encouraging people to turn
down the volume on their MP3 players and use ear protection
at concerts.
Emotional relief
“There are a lot more professionals being trained to provide
treatment for tinnitus,” says Tyler. “Many more patients are
now getting good services and treatment and there’s a lot of
help available now that there wasn’t 10 years ago.”
While physical relief from the annoyances of tinnitus is the
main goal of treatment, it is also important to get help for the
emotional effects like sleep loss, stress, and isolation. Twelve
percent of survey respondents in the BHI study said that tinnitus affects their leisure activities, social life, personal relationship or mental health. One in four said tinnitus affects their
ability to sleep.
Tyler says that while a cure for tinnitus isn’t available, the
condition is getting more attention now than it did 20 years
ago. Much of the awareness comes from a new onslaught of
veterans returning from war with tinnitus and noise-induced
hearing loss.
Listen – The world of Widex 15
Science and health
Photograph: Colourbox
An ancient
remedy for
a modern
16 Listen – The world of Widex
Science and health
There may be no cure for tinnitus, but there are different ways to manage its effects. Research shows that
one way is yoga.
But is it possible to help stimulate a low GABA level in a more
natural way? That’s where yoga comes into the picture.
A natural drug
Yoga started in India more than 5000 years ago and today is
more popular than ever, with 15 million yoga practitioners in
the USA alone*. One reason for yoga’s popularity can probably
be found in the special feeling of energy, calm and well-being
it inspires. This has led researchers to examine whether yoga
can be used in treatment methods – for instance, the relief of
Signals from the brain
In 2002, a group of researchers from the Martha Entenmann
Tinnitus Research Center in New York published a report that
described how tinnitus symptoms find their way through the
brain through a common pathway.
The report points to a connection between tinnitus symptoms and a low level of the neurotransmitter GABA (Gammaaminobutyric acid) in the brain. GABA is the brain’s primary
inhibitory neurotransmitter – in other words, it sends signals
to other cells to subdue them. It is known to help in relaxation
and sleep and to help regulate anxiety.
A lack of GABA could therefore have a direct result in increasing stress, depression and angst – conditions that for tinnitus
sufferers could lead to a worsening of their symptoms. On
the other hand, raising the level of GABA could, in principle at
least, improve their condition.
Unfortunately it is more complicated than that. Many existing
drugs that stimulate GABA have serious side effects and are
addictive, so sufferers need larger and larger doses to achieve
the same results.
Yoga has been shown to act as an effective remedy in helping other conditions such as depression, migraine, angst and
epilepsy. All these are connected to GABA levels and it was
with this in mind that a research team from Harvard Medical
University and Boston University School of Medicine decided
to investigate whether yoga could benefit tinnitus sufferers.
The team carried out a pilot study with two groups: a control
group who relaxed by reading magazines or books over a period of sixty minutes; and a group who, over the same period
of time, were instructed in various yoga positions (also called
asanas). The yoga group showed an increase of 27 percent in
GABA levels while the control group revealed no increase. The
results of the pilot study were so promising that the team now
intends to carry out a larger study.
The advantage with yoga is that, as opposed to drugs, it is
absolutely natural and without side effects. But watch out - it
can be addictive. And when you have learnt to practise the
positions correctly and have first developed a taste for the
calm and energy you experience after a yoga session, you may
become addicted too.
Read more:
* and
Listen – The world of Widex 17
Science and health
1. Stand with your feet together. Put the palms
of your hands together in front of your chest.
Breathe out.
6. Breathe out and lower your knees, chest
and forehead to the floor. Your hips and toes
are now bent.
11. Breathe in and stretch your arms forwards
and back over your head. Slowly bend over (as
in exercise 2).
2. Breathe in. Stretch your arms and bend your
back. Push your hips forwards and relax your
7. Breathe in and lower your hips. Stretch
your toes out and bend your back. Keep your
shoulders away from your ears.
12. Breathe out and put the palms of your
hands together again in front of your chest.
3. Breathe out and bend over. Reach your toes
with your fingertips; bend your knees if you
can’t reach.
8. Breathe out, bend your toes again and
lift your hips up so that your body forms an
upside-down V.
4. Breathe in and move your left leg back.
9. Breathe in and move your right leg between
your hands (as in exercise 4)
5. Hold your breath while you move your right
leg behind you. Distribute your body weight
evenly between hands and feet.
Illustratiion: Colourbox
18 Listen – The world of Widex
Repeat the entire sequence with the opposite
leg. Start with four rounds of the exercises and
gradually increase it to twelve. It is important
that you concentrate on synchronising your
movements and breathing.
Now you’re ready to start the day.
10. Breathe out and move the other leg
forwards. Bend your body together and keep
your fingertips on your toes.
Science and health
the day with
a sun
The sun salutation can be found in all types of yoga and consists of 12 exercises that are carried out gradually. It’s great for getting your body warmed up,
makes your back supple and helps you keep your waistline slim. Why not start
the day with a sun salutation and gain extra energy?
Listen – The world of Widex 19
Photograph: Marc Fluri
Science and health
20 Listen – The world of Widex
Science and health
Control your Tinnitus
Widex has long been aware of the challenges facing people
with hearing loss who have tinnitus, and we were one of the
first hearing aid manufacturers to develop a program specially
designed to help with its effects. The Zen tone and music program, introduced with the mind series of hearing aids in 2008,
has proven to be a huge success. Studies with users of Zen
have shown that the effects of their tinnitus were milder or less
of a nuisance after just six months of daily use.*
Inspired by the results of Zen with hearing aid users, Widex
has now introduced ZEN2GO, a unique tinnitus management
device for those tinnitus sufferers without hearing loss. Like
the Zen program, ZEN2GO plays random, soothing harmonic
tones designed to help users relax, reduce their stress and
manage the effects of tinnitus.
It uses what is known as fractal technology to produce random, infinite tones that are both harmonic and non-repetitive.
Fractals are geometrical structures that have details no
matter how much they are magnified. They can be split into
self-similar parts that resemble each other but do not repeat
ZEN2GO is a unique product. According to Pernille Vestergaard,
Project Manager at Widex, ZEN2GO is “the only tinnitus management device on the market to offer ZEN tones that help in
relaxation and help people with their tinnitus. What makes it
even more special is that ZEN2GO uses technology that has
already been proven to work on tinnitus sufferers.
“It is very easy for the hearing care professional to fit and they
can have it up and running in no time. So you can just go in off
the street and get professional help very quickly.”
“While there is no cure for tinnitus, we believe ZEN2GO can
make a real difference to people’s lives. And that is what
Widex always strives to do.”
*Sweetow, R. (2009). ‘Relaxation and Tinnitus’. Presentation at Australian College of
Audiology National Congress 2009
Listen – The world of Widex 21
Section headline
and technology
Paul Nachtigall, Director of the Marine Mammal Research Program at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology, is an expert on how whales and small dolphins
see, hear, and taste. His current research focuses on
marine mammal hearing. LISTEN asked Dr. Nachtigall
about how the ocean’s giants hear and why it can take
a year to do a hearing test on a whale.
Q: How do whales hear and how is it different from how
humans hear?
A: Once sound gets to the inner ear of the whale or dolphin,
they hear pretty much like humans do except that toothed
whales and dolphins hear much higher frequencies. Where
young humans hear frequencies as high as 16-18 kHz, many
small whales and dolphins hear well over 100 kHz. Presumably
they evolved this ability due to echolocation [the way whales
and dolphins use sound to identify the location, size and structure of objects, ed.].
Q: Where are a whale’s ears?
Photograph: Getty Image
A: If you think of ears as the floppy things that hang outside
your head, well, I guess the best thing like those are some
small little holes right behind the eye of most toothed whales
and dolphins, called the external auditory meatus. These ‘ear
holes’ are not really used by dolphins like we use our ears
because we use our ears to gather sound from the air. They
gather sound from the water. Water is about as dense as body
tissue so sound waves really sort of travel right through dolphins and whales. Sound has to be gathered and directed. Our
ears gather and direct sound in the air. Sound under water enters the whale in a variety of places on its head and is gathered
and directed by fat wave guides to the place where hearing
really occurs: way up inside of its head, at the inner ear.
22 Listen – The world of Widex
Q: How do whales develop hearing loss?
A: Whales develop hearing loss as they get older. They lose
their high frequency hearing like humans lose high frequency
hearing as they age. We do not know whether they get tinnitus. How would you ask a whale?
Q: How can you tell if a whale has hearing loss?
A: We started by training whales to hit paddles if they heard
sounds and stay still if they did not. It took about a year to do
an audiogram [a visual graph of the hearing loss, ed.] based on
this behaviour. We then developed the procedure for testing
their hearing electronically. The whales wear rubber suction
cups with gold electrodes inside. The electrodes pick up electrical signals from the surface of the skin made by the brain
in response to sound. In this way, we can measure what the
animal hears.
Research and
Like people, animals can also have hearing loss. Hearing loss in cats and dogs for example, is often associated with the genes that give them white fur. Blue-eyed cats and Dalmatian dogs in particular are at risk
of being born with this type of hearing loss and currently it is not known how this genetic mistake carries
from generation to generation. So if you have a white, blue-eyed cat, don’t be angry if it ignores you.
Animals can also lose their hearing during the course of their life. The most frequent reason is chronic ear
infection where the infection spreads into the inner ear prohibiting sound travelling to the brain. Blocked
ear canals with ear wax or a foreign object for example, are also common.
Listen – The world of Widex 23
Illustration: Colourbox
Society and culture
24 Listen – The world of Widex
Society and culture
Illustration: iStockphoto
Listen – The world of Widex 25
Society and culture
Da da da daaah!
Da da
Could Beethoven’s music have been different if he had not lost his hearing? Some recent research says yes –
possibly – and it has added to a long-running debate…..Our LISTEN classical music nut went in search of some
I am writing this article listening to one of my favourite pieces
of music - Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony (written in 1811).
This piece is having a resurgence in popularity following its
starring role in hit film ‘The King’s Speech”. But could this
composition have been different if the great man had not lost
his hearing?
Researchers from the University of Amsterdam looked at
string quartets composed throughout his life. Their analysis
revealed that as his hearing loss set in he used less high notes
– but reverted to more high notes in compositions after he had
gone completely deaf. In this period (after 1825) he listened to
the music in his head.
There has been much debate over the years about how
Beethoven’s hearing loss affected his musical abilities and
composing. He stopped playing the piano when his hearing
loss became severe – but that seems to be the only element
experts can agree on.
“When he came to rely completely on his inner ear he was
no longer compelled to produce music he could actually hear
when performed and slowly returned to his inner music world
and earlier composing experiences,” comments researcher
Edoardo Saccenti.
“In my view the two main differences, if he had not lost his
hearing, would have been far less composition (since he
would have performed far more); and his oratorio Christus
am Oelberge, which I see as a response to his deafness crisis,
would not have been written,” comments renowned Beethoven
expert Professor Barry Cooper of the Martin Harris Centre for
Music and Drama at Manchester University and author of a
number of books including Beethoven (published 2008 and
available on Amazon).
If you go the BMJ website (,
there is a short video where two of the team and the Isolo
String Quartet demonstrate the argument. It is the comment
of one of them, the cellist, that brings the argument alive – “I
have more to do in the later works,” she says.
On a high note
In September 2011, research published in the British Medical
Journal (BMJ) attempted to insert some facts into the argument. Beethoven’s life is divided into three ‘periods’. In the first
he has normal hearing, the second covers the period when his
hearing impairment started, and in the third he is totally deaf.
26 Listen – The world of Widex
Ludwig van Widex
If indeed his music composition ‘style’ was changed by his
hearing loss, during this middle period – it could also beg the
question: How would his music be different if he had not suffered high frequency hearing loss – or by magic we sent him
the latest Widex digital hearing aid?
Well that question really does put the cat among the pigeons!
Logic would suggest that his composing style would not have
changed from 1801 onwards – and he would have continued
composing using the same number of higher notes.
Society and culture
Professor Cooper disagrees: “I think it would have made no
difference to his composing style (although there’s no way of
telling for certain). He composed by imagining sounds in his
head, not by listening to high (or low) notes.”
Hear clearly
So what do audiology experts think of a Widex wearing
Beethoven? I spoke to Paul Checkley, Clinical Director of Musicians Hearing Services in Harley Street, one of the leading
experts on musicians and their hearing with clients ranging
from The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden to Cold Play. He
answered the question by describing the experiences of some
of his 21st century clientele.
“One rock musician who was missing high frequencies was
amazed by the fact that he was able to hear all the high-hat,
cymbal sounds again with his new hearing aid. Previously he
was finding that his production was very ‘toppy’ as he was
over-compensating during production, and his friends needed
to come in and check the pitch matching post-production.
Since wearing hearing aids he no longer has to have his production checked and he is able to compose music correctly.”
And it’s not just musicians that can benefit. “Another client is a
grade examiner at the Royal Academy of Music. He was finding
that he was not able to grade students correctly as he could
not hear the fine nuances of their playing. He is now wearing
Widex Passions and uses them in the music program while
examining and is now much more confident doing his job.”
Illustration: iStockphoto
Perhaps Beethoven’s greatness lay not in the number of high
or low notes – but somewhere else. Classical pianist Artur
Schnabel (1882 – 1951) could point us in the right direction –
“….the pauses between the notes—ah, that is where the art
Listen – The world of Widex 27
Research and technology
Illinois-based Audiologist Susan Marshall frequently has conversations with new patients
about the differences between hearing aids
and PSAPs. She’s become a pro at explaining
how the differences between the two might
impact someone’s life. These are some of the
insights that she shares with patients:
A PSAP won’t distinguish between the types
of sounds. “A PSAP has no adjustments for
the type of hearing loss someone might have;
nor are there adjustments to distinguish between voices and background noise. A PSAP
might be okay for listening to the TV, but it
won’t help in more difficult listening situations.”
The PSAP is an amplifier. “Adjusting the
volume on a PSAP turns everything up or
down. Hearing aids with digital chips will bring
out voice and conversation, which is generally
what a patient is looking for.”
The PSAP has a generic fit. “If you don’t have
a good fit, it will make your ear sore. Then the
PSAP will wind up tossed in a dresser drawer.
A poor fit also negatively impacts the quality
of the sound. So it may seem like a good deal,
but it could also be a waste of money.”
28 Listen – The world of Widex
There are better options, even if you’re
concerned about price. “There are lots of
really good, basic digital custom hearing aids
available for reasonable prices. You may also
be able to make payments. Here in the U.S.,
there are also different charitable organizations that may help with the purchase price,
under certain conditions.”
Mail order has serious constraints. “People
can’t try a PSAP first before ordering it. I can
offer my patients a 30-day trial period, during which I continue to fine tune the digital
technology for their needs. We can also try
different instruments at different price points,
to find what works best for them. At the end
of the 30 days, they can return it if they decide
it’s not accomplishing what they wanted.”
Listen to the potential. “If someone is still
not convinced, I keep hearing instruments in
stock that I can demonstrate for them. The
person who has a hearing loss often doesn’t
realize how much it affects them. They don’t
know how much they are missing. During the
demonstration, their faces light up. They are
thrilled to be able to hear without straining.”
Nothing replaces personal counselling:
“As hearing professionals, we need to walk
patients through the process of getting acclimated to their devices. Take the time to show
them not just how to use it and how to care for
it, but also to reassure them that you are there
if they need help.”
research and technology
The global hearing aid market is coping with an onslaught of cheaply priced products that are bypassing
traditional distribution methods. Clever marketing means that consumers may not understand the basic
differences between a Personal Sound Amplification Product (PSAP) and a hearing aid. And they may be
jeopardising their hearing as a result.
Recently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
has attempted to clearly distinguish between the two
products. According to the FDA, a hearing aid is defined
as a product intended to compensate for impaired hearing, while a PSAP is defined as an electronic product
intended for non hearing-impaired consumers to amplify
sounds in the environment. Reasons for using a PSAP may
include such recreational activities as hunting (listening
for prey) or bird watching.
Choosing a PSAP might not only lead to damaged hearing
- for the same reason listening to music at a high volume
through ear buds can cause hearing problems - but their
use may also delay consumers from being diagnosed with
potentially treatable conditions. Without medical care,
some conditions could worsen over time, or lead to other
complications. Others might spend hard-earned money
on a PSAP when all they really need is ear wax removal.
Damaged hearing
PSAPs cost a fraction of most hearing aids and are easily
acquired without the assistance of a hearing professional.
They are especially attractive to price-sensitive consumers, including baby boomers who may be experiencing
gradual hearing loss but are not yet ready to invest in a
customised solution.
To uninformed consumers, the differences between hearing aids and PSAPs may not be apparent. But the differences between PSAPs and hearing aids are important.
Photograph: Getty Image
Listen – The world of Widex 29
Photograph: Colourbox
Section headline
and technology
30 Listen – The world of Widex
research and
The Value of bright ideas
Patents are the lifeblood of a high-tech company. Without them, their inventions and
ideas would be vulnerable to copying and imitation, and investments in development and
research worthless. We look at an award-winning example of one of our patents and talk
to the man known as ‘Mr. Patent’.
Listen – The world of Widex 31
Research and technology
The European Patent Organisation is an intergovernmental organisation founded in 1977.
The organisation works to strengthen the co-operation between
European countries on the protection of inventions, and was set
up on the basis of the European Patent Convention (EPC) – an
international agreement that makes it possible for companies
and individuals to obtain patent protection in several or all of the
contracting states by filing a single patent application.
Photograph: Michael Noel
The European Patent Organisation currently has 38 member
states and is comprised of two bodies: the European Patent Office
(EPO) and the Administrative Council, which supervises the Office’s activities.
The award itself, created by
German industrial designer
Miriam Irle, is shaped like a
sail - a simple technological
idea that has harnessed
natural forces to move man
across the oceans for thousands of years and a symbol
of his pioneering spirit.
32 Listen – The world of Widex
Research and technology
For Widex, patents are not just vital in protecting our
own technology but also in ensuring future innovation.
The relevance of patents was recently in the spotlight when
Widex won the ‘Oscars’ of the patent world – the prestigious European Inventor Award for 2012 for the patent of the
ground-breaking CAMISHA technology – a sophisticated method of manufacturing individual hearing aid shells, earmoulds
and ear-pieces.
Company DNA
The award was announced by the European Patent Office
(EPO) at a high-profile ceremony in Copenhagen, Denmark,
featuring the crème de la crème of European inventors, as well
as the Danish Crown Prince and Princess.
Speaking at the event, Widex Executive Vice President Søren
Westermann said, “We are very proud to win this award, especially in competition with world renowned technologies such
as Bluetooth and the heart attack diagnostic test from Roche.
Innovation is part of our company DNA. This award underlines
our role as a technology leader not only in the hearing aid
industry, but as a high-tech company in general.”
“We have always been open to licensing our patents – even to
close competitors. In return, we have gained access to a wide
range of technologies in the hearing aid sector, allowing us to
convert the world’s best innovation into the greatest hearing
Presenting the award to Widex, EPO President Benoît Battistelli said, “The inventors have not only revolutionised the
hearing aid industry, they also show how Widex is a lighthouse example of a small family-owned business becoming an
internationally successful company by pursuing a well-defined
innovation and patent strategy.”
“Innovation is a primary force for economic growth. It secures
jobs and benefits society as a whole. But behind every innovation there are individual men and women, driven by the urge
to discover and the impulse to ‘make it new.’ Inventors are the
true heroes of the 21st century”, he said.
If it’s worth copying, it’s worth patenting
Widex has been at the forefront of hearing aid technology for
more than five decades, and is known for technological advances such as the first fully digital In-the-ear hearing aid, tone
therapy for tinnitus called ZEN, and the ground-breaking wireless technology WidexLink. Winning the European Inventor
Award once again reinforces the innovative capacities of the
company, holding patents on more than 150 ideas worldwide.
“One of our founders, Christian Tøpholm, used to say: ‘If it’s
worth copying, it’s worth patenting’. Today this is still the
backbone of our patent strategy. The main objective for us is
to secure our access to technology by making patents before
anyone else makes one that blocks us from developing further”, says Søren Westermann.
Listen – The world of Widex 33
Research and technology
CAMISHA visualised:
Patent drawings may look
simple, but they are vital in
making complex inventions
easier to understand.
34 Listen – The world of Widex
Research and technology
Camisha – A bright idea
CAMISHA is a technology patented by Widex that has revolutionised the way we produce In-the-ear hearing
aids and has made a huge difference for hearing aid users the world over.
CAMISHA stands for Computer Aided Manufacturing of Individual Shells for Hearing Aids. It uses laser technology to scan
an impression of the hearing aid user’s ear canal and turns this
data into a 3D computer model. This is then used as a basis for
the manufacturing of individual shells and earmoulds that fit
the user’s ear canal exactly.
CAMISHA is licensed to all major hearing aid manufacturers
and ear labs, and has revolutionised the manufacturing of
shells and earmoulds across the entire industry.
CAMISHA has greatly improved the comfort of hearing aids,
and allowed for shells and earmoulds that are not only smaller
and more discreet, but fit the shape of the ear better. More­
over, it has made the manufacturing process far more easy and
The technology in
CAMISHA is one of the
reasons the size
of modern hearing aids
are incredibly small,
such as this Invisiblein-canal model
from Widex.
Listen – The world of Widex 35
Research and technology
Getting to know Hans Erich Böhmer
- Born 1918 in Germany
- Lives in a house on a hillside in Schwartzwald
- Member of the First Class Operators Club promoting good
CW (Morse code) operating
- Still owns a telefax to communicate with former business
partners – but has never owned a computer
36 Listen – The world of Widex
Research and technology
Meet Mr. Patent
A key person in Widex’ success with patents is expert patent attorney Hans Erich Böhmer. Today, at age 94,
he still fondly looks back at a life with patenting thousands of ideas. LISTEN caught up with him at his home in
Stuttgart, Germany
“Patents are – along with trademarks – immensely important
for companies. Without them, you have no way of protecting
your products and their names. I have always found working with patents exciting because you have to be extremely
meticulous as to get all the details right from the beginning,
as you can never add to a patent application after it has been
filed – and you need to fight hard to keep your patents and
trademarks”, explains Hans Erich Böhmer. For companies that
fail to defend their patents, the price can be high.
“For example, the company that invented cellophane did not
fight for the name – or did not fight hard enough. Therefore,
the name has now become public and can be used by everyone producing this product,” he says.
A call from Widex
Hans Erich Böhmer was hired as head of the patent department at IBM back in 1960 but was forced to retire at the age
of 65 (as was corporate policy at the time). After retiring in
the beginning of the 1980s, Hans Erich Böhmer and his wife
Dorothea decided to make use of their knowledge and form an
independent patent agency. One of their first customers was
a local man named Max Hüber from a hearing aid company
called ‘micro-technic’ - today better known as Widex Germany.
“I was at a meeting with Mr. Hüber when his phone rang. It was
his Danish business partner Christian Tøpholm from Widex
calling to complain about his patent agent having goofed. Mr.
Hüber handed me the phone and I was invited to Denmark to
meet with Widex, and from then onwards I was the main patent agent for the company. The first patent I did for Widex was
the innovative Audilens”, he recalls.
The Audilens was the first In-the-ear hearing aid from Widex
and the patent was heavily attacked by competitors, with
copies attempted. But with the help of Hans Erich Böhmer,
it proved strong enough to hold. In the years to follow, Hans
Erich Böhmer often came to Denmark to meet with Widex and
secure strong patents for its inventions. One of these was the
CAMISHA patent, which was filed in 1990. Hans Erich Böhmer
was then 72 years old and still more than a decade from retirement.
Friends around the globe
Today, Hans Erich Böhmer can look back at a long, successful
career as a patent attorney. Key to this is an uncompromising
approach in securing new inventions:
“It is extremely important that the claims of the patent are precise and comprise the entire invention when first filed, because
from this point onwards, if it becomes necessary to make corrections or additions, the patent can only be narrowed”.
His long career as patent expert has provided Hans Erich Böhmer with a vast network of associates around the world, and
he has played an important role in establishing Widex’ current
network of patent experts around the globe.
“Having the right national patent associates is crucial – you
have to know who can get the job done to your satisfaction
and create patents that are strong enough to secure the inventions. Patent attorneys are great people – they take themselves
seriously but they do not prance,” he says with a laugh while
Dorothea Böhmer fondly agrees.
Thanks to their work, the Böhmer couple have travelled the
world together and have made many friends worldwide –
many of whom still turn to them not just for advice on patents
and trademarks but also for recommendations for nice restaurants.
Listen – The world of Widex 37
Photograph: Getty Image
Section and
38 Listen – The world of Widex
and headline
Hearing loss
is not a Game
An alarming number of U.S. and UK soldiers are returning from the battlefield with hearing loss and tinnitus despite the fact that one expert says it
is “100 percent preventable.” What is being done to protect the hearing of
soldiers and how are they being treated when they return home?
Listen – The world of Widex 39
Society and culture
“Many in the military suffer from some form of
hearing loss or tinnitus.”
A Fitting Solution
Since the early 2000s, the Army has used the Combat Arms
Earplug, a new device that allows soldiers to control the level of
noise exposure via a switch that can be operated without removing the plug. Also available are sound management ear muffs and
intelligent hearing protection systems - Tactical Communication
and Protective Systems (TCAPS) that provide protection as well
as situational awareness and can even electronically measure
sound levels and alert soldiers when they have met their daily
noise capacity.
40 Listen – The world of Widex
Society and culture
“In the Army you don’t have the option of turning down the
volume of a war zone.”
That’s what a YouTube video put out by the U.S. Army tells
American soldiers to warn them of the dangers of hearing loss.
Explosions, weapon fire, and the constant sound of helicopters
and military vehicles can all lead to hearing loss or tinnitus, the
video explains. And without good hearing, soldiers could have
difficulty understanding radio messages, avoiding booby traps,
and hearing enemy movement in the dark.
The risk of damaging your hearing is a warning that soldiers in
conflict have to take seriously. According to a study by the U.S.
Accountability Office, in 2009 the U.S. Veterans Association
compensated 1.2 million claims for veterans with either tinnitus
or hearing loss injuries and spent more than $1.1 billion in disability compensation payments. Noise-induced hearing loss is
one of the most common injuries from veterans and, according
to retired Col. Theresa Schulz, it’s “almost 100 percent preventable.”
A new generation of hearing loss
Schulz, who worked as an audiologist with the U.S. military for
21 years, says that hearing loss among U.S. troops is nothing
new. In WWII and the Vietnam War, soldiers often acquired
hearing loss from being constantly surrounded by the sound
of artillery and helicopters. They didn’t have access to hearing
protection. Noise-induced hearing loss and tinnitus were just
something soldiers had to deal with when they returned home.
Today the military offers ear protection to all soldiers with ear
plugs and more advanced hearing protection equipment. But
despite these precautions, hearing loss still remains one of the
most common war injuries. According to the US Department of
Veterans Affairs, nearly 70,000 of the 1.3 million troops in Iraq
and Afghanistan are receiving disability payments for hearing
loss or tinnitus.
“Although we’ve made huge progress and have lots of better
ways of dealing with it, it really is alarming how many people
in the military are suffering with both hearing impairment and
tinnitus,” says Schulz.
It is hard for hearing loss to get attention because it is what
Schulz calls an “invisible disability.” A soldier with hearing loss
doesn’t outwardly look as injured as one who has lost a leg,
so people naturally don’t notice it as much. But for soldiers,
noise-induced hearing loss can put a strain on their career,
their families, and their personal lives. Schulz says that the cost
of protecting hearing far outweighs the cost of treating hearing loss.
“When you think about what that person is going to experience in the cost for hearing aids and tinnitus treatment and
the loss of quality of life, a couple thousand dollars is nothing,”
says Schulz.
Proper training
But giving hearing protection devices to soldiers isn’t enough.
A study of NATO flight deck crews, who are exposed to tactical
jet aircraft noise up to 16 hours a day, showed that 79 percent
of flight deck personnel surveyed had inserted the ear plugs
wrong or failed to use them.
Lack of training in how to use hearing protection devices is a
common problem, says Schulz. There is also a general reluctance to wearing hearing protection, as many soldiers feel that
ear plugs and other devices could cause them to have less
situational awareness.
“Soldiers need to learn how to fit (ear plugs) and learn how to
listen through them,” says Schulz. “You wouldn’t hand someone a gun and say ‘shoot this.’ You have to train. It’s the same
with these sorts of devices.”
Listen – The world of Widex 41
Photograph: Ken Crook
Hearing every word: for Ron, and not least his family, the TV-DEX has improved quality of life immeasurably.
42 Listen – The world of Widex
Ron has struggled to enjoy the TV for years. Not anymore.
Aberdeen in Scotland is a stunning city in a beautiful part of
the world. The name means “between the Don and the Dee”,
Aberdeen’s two rivers whose geography creates a dramatic
landscape in which this ancient, yet vibrantly modern, city sits.
Aberdeen is home to Ron Birt, 71, a new Widex customer.
Ron enjoys walking his dog Trixie in the surrounding hills –
which are the eastern-most part of the Grampian Mountains.
“We have some fabulous countryside around Aberdeen.
Wouldn’t live anywhere else,” comments Ron.
Ron and his wife of 45 years, Valerie, are not Aberdonians born
and bred but originally from the South West of England. They
were based near Plymouth as Ron served in the Royal Navy for
25 years.
“Ron has quite acute hearing loss,” says his audiologist, Geoff
Bryce of Scottish Hearing Services. “He has a moderate loss in
his left ear and a severe loss in his right. I have prescribed him
Widex CLEAR440 FUSION hearing aids.”
Illegal noise levels
In the navy, Ron worked in ship engine rooms as Chief of the
Watch. It was this that caused his hearing loss, working in
noise levels that would be illegal today. “I did two separate
commissions working in the engine room on HMS Ark Royal,
plus we landed aircraft on our bedroom roof. I believe this was
the ship that caused my deafness.”
As a result, Ron has been wearing hearing aids since the 1980s
and it hasn’t always been a happy experience. But he has
recently been introduced to Widex and finds his new hearing
aids the best by far.
They have helped significantly with his social life. “Friends have
already commented that I am taking part in conversations
more – and I’m quicker at responding and replying.”
Listen – The world of Widex 43
Photograph: Ken Crook
‘Wouldn’t live anywhere else’ says Ron of Aberdeen in Scotland; it’s the perfect place to relax with wife Valerie and their dog Trixie.
Photograph: Ken Crook
44 Listen – The world of Widex
‘I’m taking part in conversations more, and I’m
quicker at responding and replying.’
But it’s the Widex TV-DEX accessory that has bowled Ron
over. “I cannot speak too highly of it because it has given our
family harmony whilst watching television together. Wearing conventional hearing aids meant the TV volume had to be
louder than my wife Valerie was happy with, causing her ears
to be blasted by sound. TV-DEX solved all that. Now we enjoy
our favourite TV programmes at volumes that are comfortable
for us both.”
So what’s his favourite programme? Well, it’s the award winning Irish comedy ‘Mrs Browns Boys’. “Before TV-DEX the dialogue was too quick. I kept having to ask, ‘What did they say?
What was the punch line?’ This not just ruined my enjoyment
– but Valerie’s too. But now I can hear every word.”
Ron’s experience in the Royal Navy could feature in a TV show
itself. He went round the world – the Panama Canal, South
America, Saigon, Nagasaki, Perth in Australia. He had adventures including being on the first ship to assist the wrecked oil
tanker Torrey Canyon that went aground off Cornwall in 1967.
He met weird and wonderful people including serving with a
Captain who used to water ski behind his destroyer HMS Barrosa.
Until the BBC commissions Ron to produce a script he will
have to watch what’s on his TV for now. But that is now a very
enjoyable experience.
Would he recommend Widex TV-DEX to others? “Definitely!”
How Does Widex TV-Dex Work
TV sound is streamed directly to the hearing aid via a base
station connected to the TV.
Hearing aid users can control their own volume with the
The TV volume stays comfortable for others in the room.
You can turn off the sound from the rest of the room – with
the Room Off button.
Protecting Your Hearing
We asked UK acoustics expert Tony Woolf about modern day
protection against damage to your ears both at work and at
Legal protection: the EU has issued two Directives since 1986.
Employers are required to assess and record noise levels in
the workplace.
Noise limits:
Low exposure values – an average of 80 dB measured over 8
hours daily/40 hours weekly.
Upper exposure values - an average of 85 dB measured as
Employers are required by law to provide ear protection
and try to reduce noise levels if the workplace environment
exceeds the limits above.
Top tips for protecting your hearing
At work: wear the ear protectors at all times in noisy situations.
At home: certain activities can be dangerous for your hearing
health. Using DIY equipment like hammer drills can exceed
safe sound limits. Wear ear protection.
At leisure: make sure you do not use the headphones on your
MP3 payer at dangerous levels.
Further information:
Listen – The world of Widex 45
Photograph courtesy of Neath Films
Section and
46 Listen – The world of Widex
and headline
The Artist was the big cinematic hit of 2011. But was it
really the first silent movie since the 1920s as stated in
the publicity for the film?
The French romantic comedy-drama, The Artist, won five
Oscars, seven BAFTAs, three Golden Globes, ten Cesars and
numerous other accolades. It grossed over $133 million worldwide. It made stars of French actor Jean Dujardin, and a Jack
Russell dog called Uggie. But as a modern-day silent film was
it the unique idea some claimed it to be?
Beating The Artist into cinemas by a year was the low-budget,
art house silent film Me and My Whacky Doctor produced by
London-based Neath Films. It was the brainchild of hearingimpaired actor Matthew Gurney who both wrote and directed
it. It is all about a slapstick comedic visit to a madcap doctor.
Universal appeal
“It is based on a true story,” Matthew tells LISTEN. “It happened to me and my brother at the appointment with our new
GP. So I wrote our experiences down. I put the outline script
in a drawer and forgot about it for a few years – until I heard
about the Zoom project.”
Now in its third year, Zoom is a scheme to support production
of short films by up and coming British hearing-impaired filmmakers. Matthew submitted his idea as a short silent film.
“Matthew pitched the idea to us, we liked it, and then helped
him produce it,” comments Neath Films Creative Director,
Maverick Litchfield-Kelly. Why a silent film? “I’m a huge fan of silent films,” Matthew
answers. “Buster Keaton is my favourite silent era performer –
Listen – The world of Widex 47
Society and culture
Photograph © Tiger Aspect Productions Ltd
Mr. Bean's slapstick humour has a broad international appeal.
Top 5 Grossing Silent Films in USA
(pre talkies)
2. 3. 4. 5. Birth of a Nation (1915)
The Big Parade (1925)
Ben Hur (1925)
Way Down East (1920)
The Gold Rush (1925)
Source: Wikipedia
48 Listen – The world of Widex
Society and culture
and I studied his films and those of Harold Lloyd whilst writing
my script. And silent films are accessible to both hearing and
hearing impaired audiences – as well as appealing to audiences that speak any language.”
Me and My Whacky Doctor was very well received by audi­
ences and critics. It won Best Comedy Film at the Breaking
Down Barriers film festival in Sochi in Russia.
This universal appeal of ‘silent films’ has also led to the vast
popularity of the Mr Bean franchise – which is listed as one of
the many ‘homage to silent films’ on Wikipedia.
“We refer to Mr Bean as a silent oddball rather than classifying the films as silent movies,” comments Katherine Senior,
Executive Producer, Mr Bean. “He is compared to Chaplin and
Hulot by certain sectors of the media – but the lack of dialogue
and his slapstick humour appeal to many countries – especially
There is a surprisingly long list of ‘silent films’ produced since
the advent of the talkies with The Jazz Singer in 1927. In
France it was Jacques Tati and his M Hulot films that harked
back to the days of no dialogue (Les Vacances de M Hulot
– 1953). From Finland there was the film Juha (1999), from
Australia Dr Plonk (2007), from India Pushpak (1988) and
many others.
After the success of The Artist we can look forward to another
full-length silent feature movie. The American film Silent Life
telling the story of Rudolf Valentino will be premiered in 2013.
So are silent films making a comeback? To mis-quote that
great fictional screen goddess of the silent era – Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard (1950) - played by real silent star
Gloria Swanson: “I hate that word [comeback]. It’s a return…”
And judging by the performance of The Artist - it’s a successful one.
That love of slapstick has created an annual phenomenon in
Germany and Denmark. Since the early 1970s, a short silent
comedy film called Dinner for One is broadcast every New
Year’s Eve achieving cult status. Yet it is virtually unknown
anywhere else.
Still popular
But even if the makers of Mr Bean do not agree with the classification ‘silent film’, there are still plenty of examples from
around the world that seem happy with that tag.
British comedian Eric Sykes, who sadly died earlier this year,
made a number of classic silent short films, most famously The
Plank in 1967. It is based on the slapstick routines of the original silent films and vaudeville performers – and tells the story
of a team of builders and their purchase of a plank of wood for
a house they are building. The starring plank sold at auction in
2011 for £1,050.
Photograph courtesy of Neath Films
No one can deny Mr Bean’s popularity. His appearance in the
London Olympics Opening Ceremony was an instant worldwide hit – and he is the number one public figure on Facebook
with 23 million followers.
Me and My Whacky Doctor was shown at the Milan Deaf Film Festival in
Listen – The world of Widex 49
Research and technology
Smothering hearing aids in sun cream and pushing the
volume button thousands of times are just some of
the abuses to which Widex hearing aids are subjected
before they go onto the market. LISTEN goes behind
the scenes to look at some of the more special
types of tests.
“To put it crudely, you could say that our job is to try to
destroy everything that our colleagues have used years to create,” says Steen Jacobsen from the department. “It is important for our customers’ satisfaction that the hearing aids are
thoroughly tested so that as few as possible experience a fault
that could really inconvenience their everyday life.”
Sweating it out
Photograph: Colourbox
Employed to destroy
A hearing aid contains an incredible amount of small components. But not all are made by Widex. For instance, the battery
drawers for our hearing aids come from a trusted supplier.
Naturally, they must adhere to the supplier’s own strict stan­
dards of quality control, but they must also pass a spot check –
just like all our own components – here at headquarters. In the
Widex Quality department, a team of no less than 15 people
work hard to check that everything is as it should be –for example, the smallest pieces of the hearing aid are checked with
a microscope that can magnify up to one thousand times.
50 Listen – The world of Widex
Steen Jacobsen and his colleagues run some of the more
unusual tests on hearing aids. One of them is a sweat test,
which takes place in a fume cupboard where the hearing aid is
exposed to the effects of artificial, sulphurous sweat and heat
for days on end to ensure that it can endure a long life behind
the ears of a hearing aid user.
In another test, sun cream is used to test the hearing aid’s
resistance. “We found out during the development of one of
our earlier models that the high oil content of sun cream can
destroy or ruin the plastic – and of course that doesn’t work,”
says Steen Jacobsen. “Therefore it is now a standard test for
Research and technology
all new hearing aids that they can take being smeared in sun
cream. I have emptied the local shops of all types of sun cream
that contain the most different chemicals.”
Push the button
A hearing aid should also be durable. On average, a hearing
aid is used for five years, and therefore all components should
be able to last an equal amount of time. “The volume button is
put through a durability test 40,000 times. We also have a machine that simulates a fall of around one and a half metres. Our
hearing aids should be able to withstand that if they are used
every day without problems,” says Steen Jacobsen. “Another
test is a so-called pull test of the tubes for our behind-the-ear
hearing aids; they need to be strong enough so that the hearing aid doesn’t fall apart. When we introduced our hearing aid
specially designed for babies in 2010 [Widex BABY], we had
already conducted an expanded pull test to make sure that
small children couldn’t pull the tubing out of the hearing aid.”
Every finished hearing aid is tested
After all components of the hearing aid are spot checked, production can begin. Widex is the only hearing aid manufacturer in the
world that tests every finished hearing aid before they leave the
factory. All are subjected to three different tests:
A visual test: this ensures the hearing aid looks as it should and
that the outer buttons work properly.
An electronic test: this is to make sure that all the internal parts
work properly so that the hearing aid can be later customised to
the individual user’s needs.
A listening test: a team of 12 people listen to every single hearing
aid. “We call them the ‘Golden Ears’ because they have sharp and
trained hearing so they can listen to the hearing aids and make
sure that they have the best and most natural sound,” explains
Steen Jacobsen.
Listen – The world of Widex 51
Photograph: iStockphoto
Society and culture
52 Listen – The world of Widex
Society and culture
A hidden health disaster
Researchers, audiologists, and medical professionals are working to decrease the prevalence of middle ear
infections, also called ‘otitis media’, amongst Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth in Australia.
Be prepared for a long trip if you want to get to the hospital
from Mornington Island. The hospital closest to the Gulf of Carpenteria island is accessible only by air, and for most islanders
the trip isn’t affordable. But ear surgery for many of the children on the island is vital, since many have developed chronic
infections that lead to hearing loss. The only other option is to
bring an operating room to the island.
A vicious circle
Boswell, an audiologist based in Adelaide, has been studying
the prevalence of otitis media in Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander children for decades. Otitis media, the scientific term
for middle ear disease or inflammation, is a common childhood
ailment that makes the middle ear become filled with fluid
after a cold, flu, sinus infection or allergic reaction.
That’s why in 1999, in a 1500 km journey by boat, trek, and
charter plane, Audiologist Dr Judith Boswell and a team of
doctors and nurses hauled surgery equipment to remote areas
of Australia for a pilot ear, nose, and throat outreach programme. The programme was an expensive and complicated
process, but for many of the islanders it provided an accessible
last-ditch attempt to save their hearing.
Most acute cases of otitis media can be resolved with antibiotics, but the solution isn’t as simple with Aboriginal and Torres
Strait Islander children. These children are more likely to get
their first case of otitis media as infants, when diagnosis is
more difficult. As a result, the condition becomes chronic and
antibiotics are less effective. The next solution is surgery for
the insertion of tubes to clear the middle ear of fluid or repair
of a hole in the eardrum. But proper surgical recovery involves
keeping the child’s ears dry and clean, which is difficult in rural
areas where access to clean water can be scarce.
According to the Australian Board of Studies, Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Islanders are ten times more likely than their
urban Australian peers to experience middle ear infection. For
many, the condition is chronic and can lead to hearing loss,
learning disabilities, and delayed speech in children.
The severity of the infections is compounded by the fact that
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children often live in poverty and are more likely to be re-infected by the bacteria that
cause middle ear infections. Add to that little access to transportation to health care facilities and you have what Boswell
calls “a recipe for socioeconomic disadvantage.”
A 2002 article in the Medical Journal of Australia shows poor
living conditions as the main cause of Aboriginal and Torres
Strait Islander children’s susceptibility to otitis media. They are
more likely to grow up in crowded homes with little access to
appropriate laundry facilities. Infants are exposed to more of
the bacteria that cause otitis media and thus contract infections at a younger age. Children, who often share beds with
their siblings, are constantly re-infecting each other. Limited
access to appropriate healthcare facilities means that infections often go unchecked, which leads to hearing loss.
Listen – The world of Widex 53
Society and culture
Papua New Guinea
The Torres Strait Islands
consist of over 270
small islands, of which
only 14 are inhabited.
They are situated in
Torres Strait between
Cape York Peninsula
at the northern tip of
Australia and Papua
New Guinea.
54 Listen – The world of Widex
Society and culture
“The bottom line is that the only way we are going to see a
significant reduction in the prevalence of ear disease over time
is when the environmental conditions improve so people do
not receive the pathogens,” says Boswell.
Until then, millions of children with chronic middle ear infections are suffering both physically and emotionally. Chronic
otitis media can cause significant hearing loss, and the psychological effects of this loss are profound. Some studies
even suggest a link between otitis media and significant social
problems that may extend into adulthood. A 2011 study of
prisoners of Aboriginal descent in Australia’s Northern Territory found that more than 90 percent of them had significant
hearing loss.
Health care professionals who work with Aboriginal and Torres
Strait Islanders are also being trained to better identify otitis
media in infants, and a mobile “Ear Bus” is being sent to rural
communities to assess children for hearing loss and infection. Boswell says that this combination of increased training,
routine ear health checks, and improved environmental conditions will help to bring down the prevalence of otitis media in
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth.
“The commonwealth government has paid much more attention to the issue in the past five years,” she says. “But it still
needs to be incorporated into what health care centres are doing. Whenever a person attends a clinic we should be encouraging health care workers to examine their ears.”
New initiatives
Researchers, government officials, audiologists, and healthcare
workers are working to prevent chronic otitis media in Aborig­
inal and Torres Strait Islander children through several state
and national initiatives. These include the government-backed
EarInfoNet that offers plain-language descriptions of otitis
media for teachers and health care workers, and reviews of
hearing loss treatment and government policy.
The Numbers*
The prevalence of otitis media in advantaged populations
around the world
40-70%The prevalence of otitis media in Australia’s Aboriginal
and Torres Strait Islander population
72 %
The prevalence of otitis media in 5-9 month-old Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander infants in Western Australia
69 %
School attendance rate of children with chronic otitis
88 %
School attendance of children in the same schools who
did not have chronic otitis media
*Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2005
Listen – The world of Widex 55
Society and culture
Widex is helping children worldwide, including these children from Cameroon
56 Listen – The world of Widex
Society and culture
the less privileged
Widex has long understood the importance of helping those in need and
is involved in charitable work in many different countries.
In Spain, Widex has had success in creating the charity association ‘Acción Solidaria
WIDEX’. Established in 2007, it involves Spanish ENT doctors helping hearing impaired children in less privileged countries regain access to hearing.
Since its inception, the association has grown, as have the projects and international scope. Under the motto ‘to help is more than just to give’, the organisation
now works with over 100 ENT doctors and hearing specialists on projects spanning
from the donation of a diagnostic apparatus to a hospital in India to the training of
nuns at a school for hearing impaired children in Cameroon.
With the advent of social media, raising awareness about such activities has become a lot easier. Widex recently launched a Facebook campaign to generate support for its work for hearing impaired children at the Mukono School for the Deaf
in Uganda.
Learn more about this project at
Listen – The world of Widex 57
Section headline
Widex around
the World
ALbanIA Arben Ruci
ALGERIA Widex Algérie eurl
ARGENTINA Widex Argentina SA
AUSTRALIA Widex Australia Pty Ltd
BELARUS LTD Arnikatrade
BELGIUM Veranneman b.v.b.a.
Widex Slusni Aparati d.o.o.
BRAZIL Centro Auditivo
Widex Brasitom Ltda.
CANADA Widex Canada Ltd.
CHILE Widex Chile
CHINA Widex Hearing Aid
(Shanghai) Co. Ltd.
COLOMBIA Widex Colombia
COSTA RICA Tecnomédica S.A.,
Clínica Dinamarca
CROATIA Microton d.o.o.
CYPRUS CH & M Cyprus
Audiology Center
CZECH REPUBLIC Widex Line s.r.o.
Widex Dominicana
EGYPT Widex-Egypt
ESTONIA Indium Ltd.
FINLAND Widex Akustik OY
FRANCE Widex France
F.Y.R.O.M Otomedical Skopje
GERMANY Widex Hörgeräte GmbH
Ghana Krispat Ear Centre
GREECE D. Chryssikos & Co.
GUYANA Roger Viapree
HONG KONG Widex Hong Kong
Hearing & Speech Centre Ltd.
HUNGARY Widex-H Kft.
INDIA Widex India Private Limited
INDONESIA Pusat Alat Bantu
Dengar Melawai
IRAN Persia Samak Co.
58 Listen – The world of Widex
IRELAND Widex Ireland Ltd.
ISRAEL Steiner Hearing Instruments
ITALY Widex Italia S.P.A
Ivory coast Centre International de
Correction Auditive
JAMAICA Siredan Enterprises Ltd.
dba Caribbean Hearing Center
JAPAN Widex Co., Ltd.
JORDAN Queen Alia Foundation for
Hearing and Speech
KOREA Widex Korea Ltd.
KUWAIT Al-Shammary
Hearing Center
LATVIA SIA Dzirdes Serviss
LEBANON Beeco Speech & Hearing Center
LIBYA Widex Libya
LITHUANIA Surdotechnika JSC
Macau Widex Macau Hearing and Speech
Centre Limited
MALAYSIA Top Hearing Care Centre
MALTA Beacon Healthcare Ltd.
MEXICO Distribuidora de Equipo
Audiológico S.A. de C.V.
MONGOLIA Mon-Anir Co., Ltd.
MOROCCO Widex Maroc
NAMIBIA Windhoek Hearing Aids
NETHERLANDS Veenhuis Medical Audio B.V.
NEW ZEALAND Widex New Zealand Ltd.
NORWAY Medisan A/S
OMAN, Sultanate of
National Optical Centre
PAKISTAN Rehabilitation Centre
for Hearing Impaired
PANAMA Widex Panama
PARAGUAY Centro Auditivo SRL
PERU Panadex S.A.
PHILIPPINES Ledesma Audiological Center
POLAND Widex Polska Sp. z.o.o.
PORTUGAL Widex - Reabilitação
Auditiva, Lda.
RUSSIA 000 “Widex”
SAUDI ARABIA Basha Medical Group
SINGAPORE Widex Singapore Pte Ltd
SLOVENIA Slusni Aparati - Widex d.o.o.
SOUTH AFRICA Widex South Africa
SPAIN Widex Audífonos S.A.
SRI LANKA D.S. Jayasinghe Opticians
(Pvt) Ltd.
SUDAN Sudanese Hearing Center
SWITZERLAND Widex Hörgeräte AG
SYRIA TEBA Medical Equipment
TAIWAN Melody Medical Instrument Corp
THAILAND D MED Hearing Center Co,.Ltd.
TUNISIA C. M. Acoustiques
TURKEY Widex Tibbi ve Teknik Cihazlar San.
ve Tic. A.S.
Hearing Care
VENEZUELA Instituto Auditivo Widex S.A.
YEMEN National Hearing Center
Listen – The world of Widex 59
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a company that has been WindMade
certified. WindMade is the first global
consumer label identifying companies
that use wind power.
Widex A/S, Nymoellevej 6, DK-3540 Lynge •
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