Karen S. Helfer

Karen Helfer
Professor and Department Chair
Communication Disorders Building, Room 201B



B.S., Boston University, Speech and Hearing Sciences, 1982; M.A., Indiana University, Audiology, 1983; Ph.D., Northwestern University, Hearing Science, 1988

Area(s) of Specialization: 

Speech Perception, Aging, Audiology

Research Description: 

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.

Key Publications: 

Helfer, K.S., Mason, C., & Marino, C. (2012). Aging and the perception of temporally- interleaved words. Ear and Hearing, in press.

Helfer, K.S., Chevalier, J., & Freyman, R.L. (2010). Aging, spatial cues, and single- vs. dual-task performance in competing speech perception. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 128, 3625-3633.

Helfer, K.S., & Freyman, R.L. (2008). Aging and speech-on-speech masking. Ear and Hearing, 29, 87-98.

Helfer, K.S., & Freyman, R.L. (2005). The role of visual speech cues in reducing energetic and informational masking. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 117, 842-849.

Freyman, R.L., Helfer, K.S., McCall, D.D. & Clifton, R.K. (1999). The role of perceived spatial separation in the unmasking of speech. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 106, 3578-3588.