Sure signs of aging can be found in thinning hairlines, increased wrinkles, and a weaker voice. A team of medical scientists at the University of Kentucky are working to better understand aging’s effect on our voices.
Just under a third of people over 65 notice a distinctive change in their voices. It may no longer carry the same punch as it once did. Joe Stemple is a professor in UK’s Department of Rehabilitation Sciences.
“So what we are trying to do is discover are there ways that we can enhance the voice in older people. Are there ways that we can hold off the deterioration process in older people by looking at laryngeal muscles,” said Stemple.
The research focuses on voice quality and on the swallowing process. Much of the research is done on lab animals. Principal Investigator Colleen McMullen says they test one possible treatment by injecting growth factor proteins into an animal’s throat muscles. Researchers are also looking into the benefits of vocal exercising.
“We have talked about possibly putting them both together, the exercise and the growth factors even. That’s another project that hopefully will be coming up to see if either alone or together, which one works better and certainly if the muscles are improved, this will help everything else we’ve been talking about,” said McMullen.
Professor Joe Stemple believes this research could have implications for veteran vocalists and older folks who just want to talk freely with family and friends around the dinner table.
“I think that if we come up with ways that we can enhance the normal aging voice that you can have implications for all kinds of professional voice users as well as grandpa goes to Thanksgiving dinner and doesn’t talk very much because he can’t be heard above the noise,” added Stemple.
A one and a half million dollar National Institutes of Health grant will fund continued research into the biology of an aging voice.