Karen S. Helfer

UMass Amherst Professor of Communication Disorders Karen Helfer
Professor and Department Chair
Communication Disorders Building, Room # 201E


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 determining how aging affects speech understanding in these realistic listening conditions. My most recent research interests revolve around studying changes in speech understanding and listening effort that occur early in the aging process (i.e., in middle-aged adults). I also am interested in the degree to which affordable hearing technology can help middle-aged and older adults cope in difficult listening situations.

Key Publications: 

Helfer, K.S., Freyman, R.L., and Merchant, G.R. (2018). How repetition influences speech understanding by younger, middle-aged, and older adults. International Journal of Audiology, DOI: 10.1080/14992027.2018.1475756

Helfer, K.S., Merchant, G.R., and Wasiuk, P.A. (2017). Objective and subjective speech perception in complex listening environments across the adult age span. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 60, 3009-3018.

Helfer, K.S., Merchant, G., and Freyman, R.L. (2016). Aging and the effect of target-masker alignment. Journal of the Acoustical of the Society of America, 140, 3844-3853.

Helfer, K.S., & Jesse, A. (2015). Lexical influences on competing speech perception in younger, middle-aged, and older adults. Journal of the Acoustical of the Society of America, 138, 363-376 (PMC4506307).

Helfer, K.S., & Freyman, R.L. (2008). Aging and speech-on-speech masking. Ear and Hearing, 29, 87-98 (PMC2987598).

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 (PMID:10615698).

Helfer, K.S. & Wilber, L.A. (1990). Hearing loss, age, and speech perception in reverberation and noise. Journal of Speech and Hearing Research, 33, 149-155 (PMID:231407).