In this episode of A Clear Voice, we speak with Dr Aaron Johnson about age-related changes to the larynx. Following a decade-long career as a professional classical singer and singing teacher, Dr Johnson trained to be a Speech and Language Pathologist. He now works at NYU Langone’s Voice Centre and researches the effects of vocal training, voice use and ageing on the muscles of the larynx.
We start by looking at the ageing process of the voice – how this differs for males and females related to hormonal changes and how other age-related changes to the body affect our voice. Dr Johnson then shares his experience as a singing teacher working with the ageing voice and how his own preconceptions were challenged as he saw first-hand the effect of vocal exercise on the ageing voice. This experience has made him passionate about sharing the message that getting older doesn't have to mean the inevitable decline of voice function and that there is something you can do about it. Likewise, he urges clinicians to not make assumptions about patients, as a lot can be done for the ageing voice to strengthen and improve function.
We discuss some of Dr Johnson’s recommended interventions and exercises based on his research into neuromuscular changes in the larynx as it ages. He shares his take on the most effective form of vocal exercise, focussing on endurance and intensity. He also emphasises the importance of ensuring that the voice remains active and in regular use as we age; “If you don't use it, you lose it.”
Voice remains an important interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary field, and clear clinical and surgical interventions are also needed to improve muscle function and make this kind of exercise possible, and we touch on some of the established and emerging areas of treatment.
In closing, Dr Johnson focuses on advocacy and the need to make people aware that voice doctors like him are out there and able to provide real support and improvement for those suffering from voice problems.
Singing Through Change by Nancy Bos, Joanne Bozeman and Cate Frazier-Neely – looking at the singing voice in women going through menopause
Lee Silverman Voice Treatment (LSVT) – an intensive voice therapy for individuals with Parkinson’s disease and other neurological conditions which affect voice.
Phonation Resistance Training Exercises (Pho
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