May is Better Hearing and Speech Month and this year the American Speech-Language Hearing Association’s theme for the month is “Communicate for Life.”
According to a recent article in Advance for Speech-Language Pathologists, more people than ever before are seeking ways to strengthen their vocal performance in order to enhance their communication for life.
While everyone can benefit from using good vocal techniques to produce a good voice and protect the voice they have, there are those who may benefit not just personally, but professionally. These may include: teachers, broadcasters, business executives, small business owners, sales/customer service professionals, clergy, counseling/therapy professionals and actors.
In addition, the behaviors used to produce a good voice are often the same as those needed to project one’s voice over loud noise or to compensate for a listener’s hearing loss. That makes healthy vocal habits a necessity for protecting the voices of those working in noisy environments, as well as those living with or caring for a person with hearing loss.
The aging population faces special challenges when it comes to good voice production. Often, the elderly complain of difficulty being heard, a weaker voice, shortness of breath when speaking, and needing to use a lot of effort to talk. Many factors may contribute to vocal dysfunction in the elderly, such as:
- Changes in the shape of the vocal chords
- Changes in the thickness of the vocal chords
- Decreased lung capacity
- Decreased saliva production
Healthy vocal habits are needed to help correct voice dysfunction. They are simple to explain, but can require a speech-language pathologist’s intervention to implement and practice. Some habits for producing a good voice include:
- Drinking plenty of water. Water is a significant part of the composition of the vocal chords. Some estimate that the vocal chords are actually 70 percent water. Speaking on dehydrated vocal chords will cause strain and damage.
- Breathing from the diaphragm. This is a behavior most untrained individuals are not only unaware of, but find difficult to implement. However, proper breath support is the power behind good voicing. Diaphragmatic breathing may be the single most important aspect to effective voicing. To learn more about diaphragmatic breathing seek out a speech-language pathologist, yoga instructor, or professional voice coach.
- Avoiding vocally abusive behaviors such as: chronic throat clearing, chronic cough, shouting, smoking, and drinking alcohol.
- Making sure heartburn or GERD is adequately controlled. When stomach acid is refluxed into the throat it can damage a person’s vocal chords.
- Trying complete vocal rest if you start to become hoarse or your voice feels strained.
If you or someone you know is having difficulty with voicing or would like to change or improve vocal quality, the first step is to visit your primary care physician. You can expect to be sent to an otolaryngologist (Ear, Nose and Throat specialist) for an evaluation of your vocal musculature. After that evaluation, you will be referred to a speech-language pathologist for voice therapy. Voice therapy can be covered by insurance, but it is best to check with your specific insurance company.
The voice is a very integral part of who we are and how we are identified. Make the most of yours by using healthy vocal habits and addressing any problems as soon as possible. Treat your voice well and you will be able to “communicate for life.”
Elana K. Thompson, MS, CCC-SLP, is a speech-language pathologist at Mount Nittany Medical Center.