Aaron Johnson, Ph.D., says vocal training can help stem age-related changes when speaking.

The vocalizations of geriatric rats have provided speech language pathologists with new information on how seniors can strengthen their voices.

Normally, vocal folds vibrate, but seniors may have deterioration of the larynx, which can result in vocal fold atrophy, explained researcher Aaron Johnson, Ph.D., CCC-SLP, a professor at the University of Illinois. Another problem is decline in the neuromuscular junction, which lets the vocal muscle work. This can result in a person having a breathy voice or becoming tired when talking.

Johnson was interested in seeing if training could result in stronger voices. He set up a model using old and young rats, whose neuromuscular structure in vocalizing is similar to humans. 

The old rats were the equivalent in age to 70- or 80-year-olds, Johnson said. He trained a group of rats to increase their vocalizations by rewarding them with food, and then analyzed all the larynges at the end of an eight-week study period. The trained old and young rats had similar vocal intensities, but the older untrained rates had lower average intensities. 

This means people who use their voice a lot may sound stronger, he told McKnight’s.

“Changes in age are not necessarily normal. Vocal training in the older population is important,” Johnson says.