Can Essential Tremor Affect Speech?

Can Essential Tremor Affect Speech?

What is an Essential Tremor?

Essential tremor is a neurological condition that results in involuntary movements such as shaking, or trembling and can affect various parts of the body. In most cases, the tremor is first noticed in the hands, when the individual affected is attempting to do something requiring fine motor skills such as tying their shoelaces or drinking from a cup. For many people living with essential tremors, the condition can affect their voice, resulting in what is referred to as an essential tremor of the voice. 

What is an Essential Tremor of the Voice?

As our bodies age, experiencing a variety of changes from occasional aches and pains to more chronic problems that become a daily challenge, is increasingly common. Essential voice tremor is a somewhat common health condition that affects the function of the vocal cords and subsequently changes the volume, sound, stability, and fluidity of the individual’s speaking voice. In most cases, essential voice tremor results in a significantly shaky sounding voice. 

Generally speaking, voice tremors affect older adults, mainly between the ages of 47 and 77. Females account for approximately 93% of cases of essential tremor voice disorder. While there is no known cure for this condition, there are lots of options available when it comes to receiving support, care and therapy. Voice therapy with a speech and language pathologist can be very helpful for someone who is struggling with an essential tremor voice disorder. Get help for yourself or a loved one by scheduling your free introductory call today! 

What Are the Symptoms of a Voice Tremor?

The primary symptom of essential voice tremor disorder is a rhythmic shakiness or wavering of the voice. In some cases, those affected by this disorder may find that speaking requires more effort and others struggle to understand them. The voice can often sound tight or strained and may fatigue easily when speaking. 

What Causes Essential Voice Tremor?

While the official cause of essential vocal tremors isn’t known at this time, research has shown that as many as half of all individuals who are diagnosed with voice tremors have a close relative who has also been diagnosed with the same condition. 

What does a Vocal Tremor Sound Like? 

A Vocal tremor can affect the voice and speaking abilities in a variety of ways. Some of the most common elements of a vocal disorder include:

  • Changes in Pitch or Volume of the Voice 
  • Interruptions in the Production of Vocal Sounds
  • Shakiness in the Voice 

A vocal tremor is typically rhythmic and consistently present regardless of the type of task that is being attempted, including such things as breathing, swallowing, and speaking. In some cases, the constant presence of the vocal tremor will cause patients to whisper in an attempt to reduce the symptoms of their vocal tremor.

How Does a Vocal Tremor Affect Speech?

Apart from the physical effects, living with a vocal tremor can cause significant frustrations and affect the individual’s confidence and self-esteem. It is common for those with this condition to alter their voice, reduce the volume at which they speak, and in some cases avoid situations that will require them to converse or navigate unfamiliar situations. Getting support for someone who is struggling to communicate as a result of a voice disorder is vitally important. Get started with speech therapy by scheduling your free introductory call today! 

How Do You Treat Voice Tremors?

While there is no known cure for essential voice tremors, there are multiple treatment options that can help to manage the symptoms of the tremor and boost the confidence of the individual when they are faced with challenging vocal tasks. The most effective treatment options for this condition can be placed into three categories: oral pharmaceuticals, botox injections, and voice therapy with a speech and language pathologist. 

Oral Medication

Because essential voice tremor is typically connected with other physiological essential tremors, this condition can respond well to the same medications that are used to treat these other conditions. Medications including propranolol, (which is used to control blood pressure), and primidone, (an anti-seizure medication) can be effective in treating vocal tremors. 

Botox (Botulinum Toxin) Injections

Botulinum toxin (known as botox) can be injected into the vocal folds. This type of treatment can be helpful when treating more severe cases of essential vocal tremors. These injections work by temporarily evening out the voice and making speaking easier. Botox injections only temporarily work to curb symptoms, and as a result, the procedure must be repeated every three to four months to optimize its effects.

How Can Speech Therapy Help with a Vocal Tremor?

While botox injections and pharmaceutical medications can help reduce the symptoms of vocal tremors, they will not help the individual increase their confidence and practice speaking clearly and at an appropriate volume. When it comes to supporting someone who is struggling with a vocal tremor, voice therapy through a qualified speech and language pathologist is the best resource. 

Voice Therapy 

It is important to note that while speech and vocal therapy does not stop the tremors, it does offer specific techniques and training methods so the voice sounds smoother, has even volume, and words are clearer.

The goal of voice therapy with a speech and language pathologist is to help the individual optimize the use of their voice. Voice therapy begins with a thorough evaluation of the individual’s vocal capacity, identifying the areas of major challenge, assessing their vocal habits, and diagnosing a specific voice disorder if necessary. In many cases, working to help someone with an essential voice tremor is a team effort, including medical professionals and physical therapists to create a completely unique and optimal treatment process. 

Voice therapy through Great Speech includes education on the anatomy and physiology of the vocal system and processes, instruction on vocal hygiene techniques and strategies, lifestyle modifications, and training on how to use the voice appropriately. Some of the following skills may be the focus of voice therapy: 

  • Coordination of Speaking and Breathing 
  • Improving Vocal Tone
  • Improving Volume and Projection of the Voice 
  • Vocal Relaxation Techniques

Are you ready to begin online speech therapy? Click here to get started today! We look forward to helping you achieve your optimal voice, boost your confidence and equip you with the skills and techniques you need to succeed.