Interview With Dr. Vishakha Rawool of University of Mississippi

Vishakha Rawool is the Chair & Professor in the Department of Communication Sciences & Disorders at the University of Mississippi, University, MS 38655. She has a master’s degree in speech-language pathology from the University of Texas at El Paso. She obtained her PhD from Purdue University and completed a post-doctoral fellowship at Johns Hopkins University. Her research interests include prevention, diagnosis and intervention of age-related deficits in speech perception.  She has several publications to her credit including a text book titled ‘Hearing Conservation In Occupational, Recreational, Educational, and Home Settings (2012, Thieme)’ and another text-book titled ‘Auditory Processing Deficits’ (2016, Thieme). She has several years of experience in teaching university level courses and extensive clinical experience in providing comprehensive speech-language and audiological services to all populations including infants and older adults. She has chaired numerous committees at the national, university, college and departmental levels.

Much of your research is in audiology, how has this benefitted the speech-specific research that you have done?

As audiologists, we are interested in how speech is processed by the auditory system in the presence or normal hearing or hearing loss. During my Ph.D. program at Purdue University, I conducted a study to evaluate the correlation between speech recognition scores and auditory brainstem response (ABR) which revealed a correlation between the two. Older adults with poorer speech recognition had slower processing as reflected in longer latencies of some of the ABR components arising from the auditory nerve.

What are some of the most important things we have learned about age related speech deficits in the past couple of decades?

The most important issue is to consider the heterogeneity and multitude factors for the speech perception deficits experienced by older adults. Each adult experiencing speech perception deficits should be evaluated not just for peripheral hearing loss but also for any central auditory and cognitive issues. The intervention then should attempt to address each of the underlying deficits that are unique to that specific individual.

What are some of the important questions we still need to answer in this area?

We still need to develop more comprehensive but clinically efficient diagnostic tools to uncover the underlying deficits. In addition, we need to develop clinically efficient intervention protocols that capitalize on any technological advances in neurosciences.

What are some of the obstacles to getting older adults the speech pathology care that they need?

Financial obstacles may be prominent in some underserved communities. The other obstacles are related to the invisible nature of any peripheral or central auditory deficits and any brain damage that may prevent some people from seeking assistance. The stigma associated with both aging and hearing aids could be additional compounding factors. Additionally, some health care professionals still assume that they can predict the presence or severity of a patient’s hearing loss by simply interacting with them. Such predictions ignore the fact that significant cognitive resources may be used by people with hearing loss during communication interactions without hearing aids. Those resources are then not available for other cognitive tasks such as memory or problem solving.

How do you select new research topics?

The way I select new topics at this stage in my career varies widely. Sometimes an interaction with a patient can motivate me to investigate a topic. Other times reading research articles may motivate me to further explore the area.

What aspect of your research are you most proud of?

I have often used objective measurement techniques in measuring variables. Such techniques can allow measurement of a certain variable (e.g. temporal or binaural processing) without requiring an active response from participants, allowing control over confounding variables such as memory, attention and fatigue that are commonly experienced by older adults.

What is your advice for those considering a master’s in speech pathology?

Speech-language pathology is a highly rewarding field. During my undergraduate studies in Mumbai, India I studied both speech-language pathology and audiology in great depth and gained a lot of clinical experience. After my bachelor’s degree I gained a lot of clinical experience in Mumbai by providing speech-language services to various clients. After this I completed a master’s degree in Speech-Language Pathology from the University of Texas at El Paso and gained addition clinical experience a the Army Medical Center. I have always found it highly rewarding to serve clients with communication disorders. All professionals who serve clients with communication disorders can make a positive impact on the lives of their clients and significantly improve the quality of their lives.

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