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About Karen S Helfer

My research program focuses on factors that influence the ability to understand speech in adverse listening situations, such as in the presence noise, reverberation, and other people talking. Although some of my research is conducted with young, normally-hearing listeners, my passion is in studying how aging affects speech understanding in these realistic listening conditions. Over the past few years I have moved from defining situations of difficulty to now studying why speech understanding (especially in the presence of competing speech) is so challenging for older adults in particular. My recent line of research is aimed at defining how much of this problem is due to age-related changes in the periphery vs. what is caused by senescent changes in top-down processing by the brain. Currently, the primary means of treating age-related hearing problems is with hearing aids. This is an inadequate solution, as hearing aids are not accepted by many people who could benefit from them and they are fairly ineffective in adverse listening conditions. My research may support the development of a more top-down, cognitive approach to intervention.


Present Associate Professor and Graduate Program Director, Department of Communication Disorders, University of Massachusetts Amherst

Curriculum Vitae

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Contact Information

358 North Pleasant St., #201B
University of Massachusetts
Amherst, MA 01003


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