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UMD Study Validates Face Recognition Experts, But Shows Humans Perform Best with an AI Partner

June 5, 2018
Contacts: 

Lee Tune, 301-405-4679

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- New research that combines computer vision research, forensic science, and psychology shows that experts in facial identification are highly accurate, but that the highest accuracy in face recognition comes through the partnering of a human expert with state-of-the-art face recognition software.

A team of scientists from the University of Maryland, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the University of Texas at Dallas, and the University of New South Wales tested and compared the face recognition accuracy of forensic examiners, computer face recognition programs, and people with no training in face recognition. A paper based on the research was published May 29, 2018, in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

The study, part of efforts to strengthen forensic science in the U.S., found that the performance of professionally trained facial identification experts was much more accurate than that of people untrained in facial recognition.  And it showed this accuracy was further enhanced by combining the evaluations of multiple experts, a common forensic practice.   

However, UMD Distinguished University Professor Rama Chellappa, a study co-author and nationally recognized leader in computer face recognition, said that the other two main results were more surprising.  

 “We found that the face recognition performance of the best computer algorithms is up there with the performance of forensic examiners,” said Chellappa, who is a Minta Martin Professor of Engineering and chair of the department of electrical and computer engineering in UMD’s A. James Clark School of Engineering and a leading computer vision researcher in the University of Maryland Institute for Advanced Computer Studies (UMIACS).

Study co-author and UMIACS Assistant Research Scientist Carlos Castillo said: “This finding represents a computer achievement comparable to the chess playing performance of IBM’s Deep Blue in matches [1996–1997] with then-World Chess Champion Garry Kasparov.”   

“We don’t know yet how this finding should be implemented in forensic practices, but it appears that computer face recognition is a tool that forensic science can use,” said Chellappa, whose post-doctoral associate Jun-Cheng Chen and two doctoral students Rajeev Ranjan and Swami Sankaranarayanan designed and developed the three face recognition programs used in the study. The top performing program, A2017b, whose inventors are Rajeev Ranjan, Carlos Castillo and Rama Chellappa was named a UMD Invention of the Year in April.

According to Chellappa, the broader context for the study is that it is a step in the process of learning how machine and humans can best work together. “These findings add to such knowledge and to the possibility that humans can trust machines to help them.”

The team’s effort began in response to a 2009 report by the National Research Council, Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward, which underscored the need to measure the accuracy of forensic examiner decisions. In their recent study published in PNAS, the researchers note that remarkably little was previously known about the accuracy of forensic facial comparisons by examiners relative to such comparisons by people without training, and nothing was known about their accuracy relative to computer-based face recognition systems.

“This is the first study to measure face identification accuracy for professional forensic facial examiners, working under circumstances that apply in real-world casework,” said NIST electronic engineer and lead author P. Jonathon Phillips. “Our deeper goal was to find better ways to increase the accuracy of forensic facial comparisons.”

The study involved a total of 184 participants. Fifty-seven were forensic facial examiners, with the highest level of professional training in the identification of faces in images and videos. Thirty were facial reviewers with a lower level of training in facial identification. Thirteen were “super recognizers,” people with exceptional natural ability to recognize faces. The remaining 84—the control groups—included 53 fingerprint examiners and 31 undergraduate students, none of whom had training in facial comparisons.

For the test, the participants received 20 pairs of face images and rated the likelihood of each pair being the same person on a seven-point scale. The research team intentionally selected extremely challenging pairs, using images taken with limited control of illumination, expression and appearance. They then tested four of the latest computerized facial recognition algorithms, all developed between 2015 and 2017, using the same image pairs.


Photo: Are these two faces the same person? Trained specialists called forensic face examiners testify about such questions in court. A new study indicates combining their expertise with state-of-the-art face recognition software gives the best accuracy.  Image Credit: J. Stoughton/NIST

 

The University of Maryland Becomes Overseas Training Base for Anhui Educators

June 5, 2018
Contacts: 

Natifia Mullings, 301-405-4076

COLLEGE PARK, Md.-- The University of Maryland recently announced its designation as an overseas education training base for educators from the Anhui Province in China. The China Anhui Education Overseas Training Base base will provide robust training to K-12 educators and higher education faculty members on education topics such as innovative pedagogy, higher education administration, teacher quality, and testing. 

Deputy Director-General of Anhui Department of Education XIE Ping, Vice-Governor of Anhui ZHOU Xi'an, UMD President Wallace Loh, Maryland Secretary of State John Wobensmith

“The designation by Anhui Province as their overseas education training center extends the long bridge that connects our campus to China,” said University of Maryland President Wallace D. Loh. “Both Maryland and Anhui benefit, as our exchanges continue to mature.” 

The education training base is one of many programs run by the University of Maryland's Office of China Affairs. OCA also offers training programs to Chinese leaders studying how governments, universities, corporations, educators, nonprofits, and professional associations implement  policies, conduct research, and provide information services. OCA programs are composed of lectures, case studies, discussions, and visits to national, state, and local government agencies and private organizations in the greater Washington, D.C. area. 

“Anhui Province is Maryland’s oldest sister-state relationship,” said Maryland Secretary of State John C. Wobensmith. “This type of educational exchange between Anhui Province and our State’s flagship institution, the University of Maryland, not only strengthens the bonds between Maryland and Anhui Province, but also helps to improve broader U.S-China relations. 

To celebrate the designation, Loh and Wobensmith, along with Vice-Governor of Anhui and the Deputy Director-General of Anhui’s Department of Education, held a plaque unveiling ceremony at the University of Maryland on May 31. The ceremony was the last event scheduled during Maryland-Anhui Promotion Week, a program conceived during a meeting between Maryland Governor Larry Hogan and Anhui Party Secretary Li Jinbin las summer. 


Photo (from l to r): Deputy Director-General of Anhui Department of Education XIE Ping, Vice-Governor of Anhui ZHOU Xi'an, UMD President Wallace Loh, Maryland Secretary of State John Wobensmith.

Notice to community of aerial filming -- Tuesday, June 5, 2018

June 5, 2018
Contacts: 

Jessica Jennings, 301-405-4618

On Tuesday, June 5, 2018, from 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m a low-flying helicopter may be visible over campus. The helicopter will be taking aerial photography of the university.

 

UMD Receives Top Recognition in Latest Global Rankings

June 1, 2018
Contacts: 

Natifia Mullings, 301-405-4076

COLLEGE PARK, Md.-- The University of Maryland has been ranked one of the top 100 universities in the world in two new rankings out this week. According to both the Times Higher Education 2018 World Reputation Rankings and the Center for World University Rankings, UMD continues to strengthen its academic reputation alongside the most prestigious global universities.  

UMD is one of 44 U.S. colleges and universities to make this year’s world reputation rankings list. UMD ranked in the 71-80 range. Only the top 50 institutions receive an individual ranking. 

The 2018 World Reputation Rankings recognizes the most powerful global university brands based on the results of the world’s largest invitation-only opinion survey of senior, published academic. Researchers were asked to name the top 15 universities they believed were the best for research and teaching in their field. This year’s survey had more than 10,000 responses from scholars in 138 countries. For the full Times Higher Education 2018 Top 100 World Reputation Rankings list, click here

UMD was also ranked as a top global university by the Center for World University Rankings. The institution ranked 16 among the top U.S. public institutions and 47 overall out of the top 1,000 universities ranked worldwide.  

The rankings graded 18,000 universities on seven factors without relying on surveys and university data submissions: quality of teaching, alumni employment, quality of faculty, research output, quality publications, influence, and citations. The Center for World University Rankings is recognized as the largest academic ranking of global universities. Their rankings have been published annually since 2012. To view the full rankings list, click here

UMD-led Study Shows How Solar Wind Drops from Gale to Gentle Breeze as It Hits Earth’s Magnetic Field

June 1, 2018
Contacts: 

Irene Ying, 301-405-5204

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – As Earth orbits the sun at supersonic speed, it cuts a path through the solar wind. This fast stream of charged particles, or plasma, launched from the sun’s outer layers would bombard Earth's atmosphere if not for the protection of Earth's magnetic field.

Just as the nose of a motorboat creates a bow-shaped wave as it pushes through the water, Earth creates a similar effect—called a bow shock—as it pushes through the solar wind. A new University of Maryland-led study describes the first observations of the process of electron heating that happens in Earth’s bow shock.

The researchers found that when the electrons in the solar wind encounter the bow shock, they momentarily accelerate to such a high speed that the electron stream becomes unstable and breaks down. This breakdown process robs the electrons of their high speed and converts the energy to heat.

Scientists have sought to explain how Earth’s magnetic field can shove aside the powerful solar wind without unleashing calamity. They have known part of the answer for a long time: the bow shock converts energy from the solar wind to heat stored in electrons and ions. But now, researchers have important new clues about how this process occurs.


The results add an important new dimension to scientists’ understanding of Earth’s magnetic field and its ability to protect the planet from harmful particles and radiation. The research paper was published in the journal Physical Review Letters on May 31, 2018.

"If you were to stand on a mountaintop, you might get knocked over by a fast wind," explained Li-Jen Chen, lead author of the study and an associate research scientist in the UMD department of astronomy. "Fortunately, as the solar wind crashes into Earth’s magnetic field, the bow shock protects us by slowing down this wind and changing it to a nice, warm breeze. We now have a better idea how this happens.”

The scientists obtained their data from NASA’s Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) mission. The MMS mission consists of four identical satellites that carry instruments to study the physics of Earth’s magnetic field as it interacts with the solar wind. The satellites obtained three-dimensional measurements every 30 milliseconds, resulting in hundreds of measurements within the bow shock layer. These high-frequency, precise measurements from the MMS mission were critical to the study.

“The extremely fast measurements from MMS allowed us finally to see the electron heating process in the thin shock layer,” said Thomas Moore, a senior project scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center and a co-author of the study. “This is groundbreaking because now we have the ability to identify the mechanism at work, instead of just observing its consequences.”

Scientists have known for some time that the bow shock is somehow able to convert the energy in electrons to heat without any direct collisions between the electrons. This means that friction—a common way to generate heat here on Earth—is not responsible for electron heating in the bow shock.

"The new observations of electron acceleration at the bow shock rewrite the current understanding of electron heating,” said UMD’s Chen, who is also a research scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. "For example, researchers didn't expect that the bow shock could accelerate the solar wind electron stream to the speeds that we observed."

In an earlier phase of the MMS mission, the satellites typically orbited much closer to Earth, so they usually missed the bow shock. However, an unexpected outburst of solar wind pushed the bow shock closer to Earth, allowing the satellites to capture rare and informative data.

Seizing on this advantage, the researchers observed the solar wind’s electron stream before, during and after meeting with the bow shock. The electron stream accelerated by the shock only took 90 milliseconds to destabilize and fully break down.

“The study of electron heating is important not just for understanding how the bow shock protects Earth, but potentially for satellites, space travel and maybe exploring other planets in the future,” Chen said.

By giving the first clear picture of what electrons at the bow shock are doing, Chen and her collaborators hope to encourage other scientists to perform computer simulations, further space observations and laboratory experiments on electron heating.


Other UMD study co-authors include associate research scientist Naoki Bessho, research engineer Levon Avanov and postdoctoral associate Shan Wang, all in the department of astronomy.

This work was supported by NASA, the U.S. Department of Energy (Award No. DESC0016278), the U.S. National Science Foundation (Award Nos. AGS-1202537, AGS-1543598 and AGS-1552142), the French Centre National d'Études Spatiales and the French Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique. The content of this article does not necessarily reflect the views of these organizations.


Image: A giant magnetic field (swirling blue lines) surrounds Earth. As Earth travels (R - L) through the solar wind, its magnetic field creates a bow shock in front of itself (pale blue area). Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center 

UMD Study Examines Association of Abortion and Antidepressants

May 31, 2018
Contacts: 

Kelly Blake, 301-405-9418

Study finds that having an abortion does not lead to depression.

COLLEGE PARK, Md.-- Having an abortion does not increase a woman’s risk for depression, according to a new University of Maryland study published in JAMA Psychiatry. To better understand the relationship between having an abortion and women’s mental health, Julia R. Steinberg, Ph.D., assistant professor of family science, University of Maryland School of Public Health, and colleagues analyzed data for nearly 400,000 Danish women born between 1980-1994. The information included abortions, childbirths and antidepressant prescriptions as recorded by the Danish National Registries. It is the first study to explore the risk of antidepressant use around an abortion as a proxy for depression. 

Compared to women who did not have an abortion, those who did have an abortion had a higher risk of antidepressant use. But Steinberg stresses this higher risk was the same for both the year before and the year after the abortion, indicating that the higher risk is not due to the abortion but to other factors such as preexisting mental health problems and other adverse experiences.

The study concludes that the risk of antidepressant use did not change from the year before to the year after an abortion, and that the risk of antidepressant use decreased as more time after the abortion elapsed. 

“The purported mental health effects of abortion have been used to justify state policies limiting access to abortion in the United States,” said Steinberg. “However, our findings show that abortion is not causing depression. Policies based on the notion that abortion harms women’s mental health are misinformed."

Steinberg’s findings from the study Examining the Association of Antidepressant Prescriptions With First Abortion and First Childbirth provide important new evidence that can inform policy. Her research also supports the recent National Academies of Science report “The Safety and Quality of Abortion Care in the United States” which concludes that “...having an abortion does not increase women’s risk of depression, anxiety or PTSD.” 

UMD Research Shows Physiological Effects of Mate Separation in Birds

May 29, 2018
Contacts: 

Laura Ours, 301-405-5722

COLLEGE PARK, Md.-- A new study from researchers at the University of Maryland reveals the distinct physiological differences in the effects of mate separation on male and female birds. These findings might help pave the way toward a deeper understanding of the ways in which male and female humans process separation from a mate on physical levels.

Published in Hippocampus, the study observed zebra finches in order to determine if their gene expression would change in response to mate separation.  Zebra finches are monogamous, biparental avian species that form lifelong pair bonds. They are also known to exhibit many sex differences in both brains and behavior. The research team, who initiated the study while they were at Johns Hopkins University, is led by Farrah Madison, Ph.D., UMD research assistant professor of psychology, and Andrew J. Kesner, researcher at the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Gregory Ball, Ph.D., dean of UMD’s College of Behavioral and Social Sciences and a professor of psychology and of biology, and Beau A. Alward, Ph.D.,  a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University, co-authored the study. 

The team investigated the effects of mate pair separation by measuring and evaluating changes in gene expression in the brain that are related to the functioning of stress hormones. They measured the effects of mate pair separation on circulating corticosterone concentrations (the main stress hormone in birds), as well as changes in mineralocorticoid receptor (MR), glucocorticoid receptor (GR), and corticotropin releasing hormone (CRH) gene expression in the hippocampus and hypothalamus in both male and female finches. The MR and GR are receptor proteins that regulate the secretion of these adrenal hormones through a feedback system between hormone concentrations in the blood and the brain.

The birds were assessed in three scenarios:  the male or female being removed from their respective mate and placed in a cage with a new opposite sex conspecific and stimulus female, the male or female remaining with their mate, but a new stimulus female was introduced, or  the subjects were handled but not separated from their mate or the stimulus female.  

As previously observed,  the researchers found significant increases in plasma corticosterone concentrations in response to both mate pair and stimulus female separation in both males and females. The disruption of the social setting in the birds  increased stress hormone secretion.

No effects of treatment on gene expression were observed in the hypothalamus—the region in the forebrain of both birds and humans that links the nervous system to the endocrine system. But in the hippocampus, the region that sits at the top of the brain in birds and plays a significant role in memory, spatial awareness and the regulation of psychological hormone responses to stress in all vertebrates, females exhibited a significant up regulation in hippocampal MR—but not GR mRNA—whereas males exhibited a significant down regulation of both hippocampal MR and GR mRNA in response to mate pair separation. Such decreases in receptor expression in the human hippocampus are associated with depression.

“This sex-dependent response to mate loss suggests that male and female zebra finches may perceive the stressful effects of mate pair separation in different ways, and MRs may influence behavioral flexibility in females,” Madison said. “This is especially interesting, as we already know that in avian species, females are more likely to leave a pair than males.”

“Our results potentially shed light on neurobiological mechanisms that factor into the observed sex differences in how males and females of other species—including perhaps humans—perceive and respond to stressful psychological events such as the death of a spouse, divorce, or marital separation,” Ball said. “For example, in humans, men have been shown to be more apt to demonstrate negative health outcomes in response to the dissolution of a marriage than women, suggesting that women cope with divorce better than men.”

“While it is still too early to extrapolate possible implications of this study on parallel findings in human subjects, our project could potentially lay some groundwork in such an examination,” added Madison. 

 

Satellite Study Finds Major Shifts in Global Freshwater

May 23, 2018
Contacts: 

Matthew Wright, 301-405-9267

COLLEGE PARK, Md. A new global, satellite-based study of Earth’s freshwater distribution found that wet areas are getting wetter and dry areas drier. The data suggest that this pattern is due to a variety of human and natural factors, including people’s use and management of water,  human-caused climate change, and natural climate cycles.

 

A NASA-led research team that included Hiroko Beaudoing, a faculty specialist in the University of Maryland’s Earth System Science Interdisciplinary Center (ESSIC), used 14 years of observations from the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellite program to track global trends in freshwater in 34 regions around the world.

The study, recently published in the journal Nature, also incorporated satellite precipitation data from the ESSIC-led Global Precipitation Climatology Project; Landsat imagery from NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey; irrigation maps; and published reports of human activities related to agriculture, mining and reservoir operations. Using data taken from 2002 to 2016, the study suggests that changes in two-thirds of the 34 regions, from California to China may be linked to climate change or human water use, such as large scale pumping of groundwater for farming.

Freshwater is present in lakes, rivers, soil, snow, groundwater and glacial ice. Its loss in the ice sheets at the poles—attributed to climate change—has implications for sea level rise. On land, it is one of Earth's most essential resources. While some regions' water supplies are relatively stable, others normally experience increases or decreases. But the current study revealed a new and distressing pattern.

"What we are witnessing is major hydrologic change," said co-author James Famiglietti of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "We see, for the first time, a very distinctive pattern of the wet land areas of the world getting wetter—those are the high latitudes and the tropics—and the dry areas in between getting dryer. Embedded within the dry areas we see multiple hotspots resulting from groundwater depletion."

Famiglietti noted that while water loss in some regions is clearly driven by warming climate, such as the melting ice sheets and alpine glaciers, it will take more time before other patterns can be unequivocally attributed to climate change.

"The pattern of wet-getting-wetter, dry-getting-drier is predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change models for the end of the 21st century, but we’ll need a much longer dataset to be able to definitively say that climate change is responsible for the emergence of a similar pattern in the GRACE data," Famiglietti said. "However, the current trajectory is certainly cause for concern."

Photo of map depicts one image in a time series of data collected by NASA's GRACE mission from 2002 to 2016, showing where freshwater storage was higher (blue) or lower (red) than the average for the 14-year study period.The twin GRACE satellites launched in 2002 measured changes in Earth's gravity field caused by movements of large volumes of water or other forms of mass on the planet below. Using this method, variations in terrestrial water storage were tracked until the GRACE mission ended in October 2017. However, the GRACE satellite observations alone couldn’t tell the research team what was causing the apparent trends.

"We examined information on precipitation, agriculture and groundwater pumping to find a possible explanation for the trends estimated from GRACE," said Beaudoing, who has joint appointments at UMD and NASA Goddard.

The team found that across numerous regions one of the big causes of groundwater depletion was agriculture, which can be complicated by natural cycles. California, which in 2017 produced more than half of the total vegetable production in the U.S., was a prime example. Decreases in freshwater caused by the state’s severe drought from 2007 to 2015 were compounded by groundwater withdrawals to support the farms in the state’s Central Valley and elsewhere. A majority of California's freshwater comes in the form of rainfall and snow that collects in the Sierra Nevadas and then is managed through a series of reservoirs as it melts. When natural cycles led to dry years with diminished snowpack and surface waters, farmers and other Californians relied more heavily on groundwater.

Natural cycles of rainy and dry years also can cause large decreases and increases in regional amounts of freshwater. For example, in Africa the western Zambezi basin and Okavango Delta, is a vital watering hole for wildlife in northern Botswana. And during the 14-year study period water storage in this region increased at an average rate of 29 gigatons (126 million Olympic swimming pools) per year from 2002 to 2016. This wet period during the GRACE mission followed a dry period of at least two decades. Lead author of the paper Matt Rodell, who is chief of the Hydrological Sciences Laboratory at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, said he believes this is a case of natural variability that occurs over decades in this region of Africa.

"This is the first time we’ve assessed how freshwater availability is changing, everywhere on Earth, using satellite observations," said Rodell. "A key goal was to distinguish shifts in terrestrial water storage caused by natural variability—wet periods and dry periods associated with El Niño and La Niña, for example—from trends related to climate change or human impacts, like pumping groundwater out of an aquifer faster than it is replenished."

The twin GRACE satellites, launched in 2002 as a joint mission with the German Aerospace Center (DLR), precisely measured the distance between the two satellites to detect changes in Earth's gravity field caused by movements of mass on the planet below. Using this method, GRACE tracked variations in terrestrial water storage on monthly to yearly timescales until its science mission ended in October 2017. A successor mission, called GRACE Follow-On is undergoing final preparations for launch.

 


 

Thumbnail: Artist's rendering shows the twin spacecraft of the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiement Follow-On (GRACE-FO) mission, a partnership between NASA and the German Research Centre for Geosciences GFZ. Image credit: NASA JPL/Caltech.

 

Photo: World map depicts one image in a time series of data collected by NASA's GRACE mission from 2002 to 2016, showing where freshwater storage was higher (blue) or lower (red) than the average for the 14-year study period.

UMD Names Steve Fetter Associate Provost and Dean of the Graduate School

May 23, 2018
Contacts: 

Katie Lawson, 301-405-4622

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - The University of Maryland has named Steve Fetter as Associate Provost and Dean of the Graduate School, effective June 1, 2018. As Dean, Fetter will lead the Graduate School’s mission to advance graduate education and enhance the graduate student experience at UMD by working closely with staff of the university’s more than 230 graduate programs. 

Headshot of Fetter“Steve has served as graduate dean ad interim since last October and I am extremely pleased that he has agreed to continue in the job on a permanent basis,” says UMD Senior Vice President and Provost Mary Ann Rankin. “His leadership of the Graduate School has been characterized by insight, compassion, creativity, and efficiency, and I know he will continue to be an exemplary leader and spokesperson for graduate education on this campus in the years to come.” 

Fetter joined the University of Maryland in 1988 as an assistant professor, and over three decades he has held many leadership positions at the university. He directed the international security and economic policy program and the environmental policy program in the School of Public Policy, and was Dean of the School of Public Policy from 2005-2009. Fetter has served as Associate Provost for Academic Affairs since 2013 and was named Acting Executive Director of the Center for Advanced Study of Language earlier this academic year. He has served as interim dean for the Graduate School since October 2017. 

“It has been a pleasure working with Graduate School staff, as well as faculty and students from all over campus these past eight months. I am honored to accept the position as Dean of the Graduate School and work hand-in-hand with our staff to foster collaboration and partnerships that lead to graduate student success,” says Fetter. 

He has also served in several federal agencies, including the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, the Department of State, and the Department of Defense, and he received the Secretary of Defense Award for Outstanding Public Service. He has held visiting appointments at Stanford University and MIT and postdoctoral fellowships at Harvard University and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and has served as President of the Association of Professional Schools of International Affairs.

Fetter earned his S.B. in physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley in energy and resources. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences’ Committee on International Security and Arms Control; the Board of Directors of the Union of Concerned Scientists; the Board of Editors of Science and Global Security; and the Council on Foreign Relations. He is a fellow of the American Physical Society and recipient of its Forum Award for outstanding contributions to the public understanding of issues involving the interface of physics and society.  

 

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About the University of Maryland
The University of Maryland, College Park is the state's flagship university and one of the nation's preeminent public research universities. A global leader in research, entrepreneurship and innovation, the university is home to more than 40,000 students, 10,000 faculty and staff, and 280 academic programs. As one of the nation’s top producers of Fulbright scholars, its faculty includes two Nobel laureates, three Pulitzer Prize winners and 56 members of the national academies. The institution has a $1.9 billion operating budget and secures $514 million annually in external research funding. For more information about the University of Maryland, College Park, visit www.umd.edu.

 

 

 

 

UMD Research Shows Hearing Aids Improve Brain Function and Memory in Older Adults

May 21, 2018
Contacts: 

Sara Gavin, 301-405-1733

COLLEGE PARK, Md.-- One of the most prevalent health conditions among older adults, age-related hearing loss, can lead to cognitive decline, social isolation and depression. However, new research from the University of Maryland Department of Hearing and Speech Sciences (HESP) shows that the use of hearing aids not only restores the capacity to hear, but can improve brain function and working memory. 

HESP Clinic patient with hearing aidThe UMD-led research team monitored a group of first-time hearing aid users with mild-to-moderate hearing loss over a period of six months. The researchers used a variety of behavioral and cognitive tests designed to assess participants’ hearing as well as their working memory, attention and processing speed. They also measured electrical activity produced in response to speech sounds in the auditory cortex and midbrain. 

At the end of the six months, participants showed improved memory, improved neural speech processing, and greater ease of listening as a result of the hearing aid use. Findings from the study were published recently in Clinical Neurophysiology and Neuropsychologia

“Our results suggest that the benefits of auditory rehabilitation through the use of hearing aids may extend beyond better hearing and could include improved working memory and auditory brain function,” said HESP Assistant Professor Samira Anderson, who led the research team. “In effect, hearing aids can actually help reverse several of the major problems with communication that are common as we get older.” 

According to the National Institutes of Health, as many as 28.8 million Americans could benefit from wearing hearing aids, but less than a third of that population actually uses them. Several barriers prevent more widespread use of hearing aids—namely, their high cost and the fact that many people find it difficult to adjust to wearing them. A growing body of evidence has demonstrated a link between hearing loss and cognitive decline in older adults. Aging and hearing loss can also lead to changes in the brain’s ability to efficiently process speech, leading to decreased ability to understand what others are saying, especially in noisy backgrounds. 

The UMD researchers say the results of their study provide hope that hearing aid use can at least partially restore deficits in cognitive function and auditory brain function in older adults.

“We hope our findings underscore the need to not only make hearing aids more accessible and affordable for older adults, but also to improve fitting procedures to ensure that people continue to wear them and benefit from them,” Anderson said. 

The research team is working on developing better procedures for fitting people with hearing aids for the first time. In addition to Anderson, the team includes post-doctoral fellow Hanin Karawani and UMD alumna Kimberly Jenkins from HESP. 

The study was funded by the Hearing Health Foundation and the National Institutes of Health (NIDCD R21DC015843).

 

 

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