Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Is your speech worse in cold weather?




Recently someone mentioned on a website that his speech gets worse when it's cold. This has also been my experience, and it has led me to compare this with the fact that when it's cold, people naturally tend to protect themselves from the weather by tensing a number of muscles - we hunch our shoulders, tense our arms and keep them close to our bodies to keep warm, stiffen our necks etc.

If you believe, as I do, that stuttering is fundamentally the result of stress/tension-sensitive muscles of the vocal folds (also known as vocal cords) that "lock" when over-tensed, it makes sense that cold weather could make stuttering worse. Somewhat similar to us tensing our limbs in cold weather, the tendency of the muscles of our stress/tension-sensitive vocal folds to lock when overstressed may increase when temperatures are low. Alternatively, general body stress may be higher when it's cold, so increasing base-level stress which in turn decreases fluency margins. (For an explanation of "base-level stress/tension", "fluency margins" etc. check out THIS CHAPTER of Coping with Stuttering, my online book on stuttering.)

Conversely, one would expect that, in hot weather, stuttering may be less severe for many people who stutter. When it's hot, people generally tend to relax more, to "let go" and not hunch their shoulders and body muscles. Of course, one cannot generalise too much as stress / tension patterns differ individually and according to circumstances; but there may be an underlying trend here. Personally  I have definitely found that my fluency is much better in summertime.

If cold weather impacts your fluency negatively, it could perhaps help in particular to keep the neck and throat warm with a scarf, and to generally try to keep as warm as possible. If this helps, please let me know by adding a comment below this post.

Results of the informal survey: In an informal survey on this blog asking "Is your speech worse in cold weather?" 39 people responded, and the results were as follows:

1. Yes, it's worse when cold and better when it's hot: 9 votes (23%)
2. No, it's better in cold weather: 3 votes (7%)
3. Temperature makes no difference: 12 votes (30%)
4. Haven't noticed a difference: 15 votes (38%)

Conclusions: As mentioned, stress patterns in people differ, so that some people get more stressed than others due to temperature, but even so it is interesting that, in the survey, more people who stutter are negatively impacted by cold weather (9 votes) compared to those who stutter more in hot weather (3 votes). Certainly hot weather can also stress people just like the cold can - that's where the expression "hot and bothered" comes from! Extremes of temperature are probably stressing, irrespective of whether cold or hot. It would be interesting to experiment with PWS in controlled temperatures to see how we react to temperature. Excuse me while I prepare my cold storage room ... :-)

Update December 2012:  I asked this same question to the professionals at the 2012 ISAD (International Stuttering Awareness Day) Online Conference. My question was as follows:

"Dear panel, I wondered if any research is available on the relationship between stuttering and temperature? For instance, do some people tend to stutter more when the weather is cold? In a poll on my blog recently, 9 people said that their speech was worse in cold conditions, whereas 3 said that their speech was better when it's cold. 12 said that temperature didn't make any difference, and 15 said that they hadn't noticed any difference. Personally I find that my speech is markedly better when the temperature is nice and warm, but markedly worse in cold temperatures. I would ascribe this to muscle tension and stress - when it's cold, some people maybe tend to tense their muscles to ward off the cold, whereas when the weather is nice, people tend to be more relaxed. I thought this was rather interesting, but has this been researched before?"

I received one reply from Ken St Louis:

"Hello Peter, Interesting question. I'm quite sure I've never seen a study on the relationship between outside temperature and stuttering. Of course if one did, it would require lots of controls, e.g., humidity, upper respiratory infections, air conditioning, actual temperature differences in different seasons, etc. It looks like your little survey suggests that temperature is probably not a large predictor of stuttering: 23% worse, 8% better, and 69% no difference. That said, you might have a significant difference with a Chi Square which clearly would PROVE that cold weather is bad for people who stutter. JUST JOKING . Ken"

My response: I'm still not convinced - I suspect that cold DOES have an impact on the fluency of many (not all) people who stutter, and that the muscle tension caused by cold temperatures can have an effect on either the vocal-cord muscles, thereby directly impacting speech, or on general muscle tension (= general stress levels), thereby indirectly impacting speech, or both. Of course not everyone's speech will be impacted by cold - people have different stress patterns and will respond differently to cold.

29 December 2012: I have created a new poll on this issue to get a larger sample. Kindly take part! I would love to get your response. Many thanks in advance! This, of course, is not a "scientific" survey but will hopefully create interest so that the real experts will take it further. Here is the poll:









  

12 comments:

  1. Everyone seems to agree that there are different kinds of stuttering. Some stutter more, some less, some gets more fluent of alcohol and some doesn't and so on. I would like to see if there are some people that are just like me, and if there are, we can try different methods togheter.
    This is me:

    * When I play roles, I don't stutter, unless I continue the roleplay for a long time.
    * Alcohol reduces my stuttering
    * During formal conversations I stutter more.
    * Painkillers seems to reduce my stuttering
    * I often shake when I lift heavy things
    * When I close one eye, the closed eyelid twitches.
    The last two did not include speech but there might be a connection to the stuttering. Who knows? Does anyone recognize themselves in this description? / a swede

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  2. To Anonymous: I think there are many, many people just like you. Stuttering has to be seen in terms of the type of stress placed on the individual. Alcohol tends to relax people so that they stutter less. Formal conversations are more stressful, so it can be expected that the person will stutter more. Painkillers, like alcohol, also tends to relax people. Playing a role can distract a person from stuttering so that the conditioned stuttering reflexes are not activated. As regards shaking when lifting weights, and twitching eyelids - that is not common among stutterers and could be an individual thing. Personally I believe that stuttering is due to vocal cord muscles that are very stress-sensitive. This hypothesis is explained in my free online book - you will find the link to my book on the left side of this blog. Kind regards.

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  3. I think your hypothesis, that stress sensitive vocal cord muscles causes stuttering makes sence.
    And with that hypothesis in mind, I have thought about a cure/reducer. As we said, alcohol, painkillers and other relaxing preparations seems to reduce stuttering. However, they are not good for daily use (or any use).
    A way to relax the vocal cords more direct might be to use the same technique as beauty clinics does to reduce wrinkles.
    A simple injection of muscle relaxant substance, directly to the vocal cord muscles, instead of to the forehead wrinkles.

    This might sound a little bit wild, but I would like to hear you opinion on this. Thank you. / a swede

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  4. Dear Anonymous, your idea is not wild at all, and similar experiments have been done, though I understand that not much has come from it. You will be interested in the following pages from Dr Martin Schwartz's online book "Stutter No More" in which he describes similar experiments: http://www.stutter-no-more.com/chptr_16.html I have no more information on this, but I hope that someone will one day explore this area further. Best of luck and kind regards.

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  5. Dear Peter,
    I read the chapter 16 and found it very interesting, thank you. One thought that came to my mind was that some stutterers don't stutter when they have a cold. I can't refer to it, but some can. Do you think there is a conection between the stutter free period in the test and the "cold-fluency"? The connection I see is that in both cases the persons need to provide more force to create their voices. In one case, because of a cold, and in the other case because of numb vocal cords.

    I really hope that they can find an enzyme that eliminates the "sensors" and leaves the "motors" intact. It would change so many lives to the better.

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  6. Dear Anonymous, You are correct in saying that some stutterers don't stutter when they have a cold; but some others stutter even more. Check out my post "Does a sore throat affect your fluency?" - you will find a link to it on the left side of the blog. I think that various factors can be at work here, for instance distraction and higher stress levels when not feeling well (e.g. higher blood pressure and elevated heart beat). Much work still needs to be done in this area, but sadly I suspect that the ideas in Dr Schwartz's chapter 16 have not (yet) been realised. In his recent memoirs, which you can read by clicking on http://thefluencystore.com/memoirs/toc.html , he hasn't referred to the chapter 16 possibilities, so it would seem that the results have not been successful. I can only hope that this line of thinking will be followed up in future research. Kind regards.

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  7. Dear Peter,
    I'm going to share some information about how I got my stuttering under control. For a while ago I started to do some research about stuttering, because I wanted to make my situation better. I tried different things and nothing has worked so effective as this. I simply downloaded a DAF (delayed auditory feedback) app for my iPhone, and my life has changed to the better. I would say that my stuttering is reduced by approx 80%. I really recommend every stutterer to at least try this. Maybe the effect isn't that good for everybody, but it's worth a try, that's what I think. Peter, have you any experience of this, and are you maybe going to try it?

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  8. Dear Anonymous, I am so glad that you found the DAF helpful! DAF is a well-known method to help people who stutter. If it works for you, then go for it! The main criticism against DAF is that the beneficial effect tends to be temporary. It can serve as a distraction technique, but the problem with distraction therapy is that the user gradually becomes used to the distraction, with the result that the stutter returns after a while. There are also other benefits, however, such as that it helps people to speak slower, which reduces speed stress. Then also it can help people to reduce anticipatory stress (scanning ahead for words). I know of a few people who found permanent relief from stuttering thanks to DAF even though it's not a cure but rather a stuttering management tool. Personally I don't use DAF as my stutter is under control most of the time these days. All the best and good luck with the DAF!

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  9. Dear Peter,
    Thank you for the information about the DAF. I got really encouraged to hear that you know people that have found permanent relief with DAF.
    I have been using the DAF for a month. The positive effect have not worn off and I enjoy every moment.
    How long time do you think it takes to know if the effects are going to last?


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  10. Dear Anonymous, Very good news that you are still finding the DAF effective even after a month of usage. I do not know the answer to your question, however. It probably depends on the individual and may vary from person to person. I do hope that in your case the benefits will be permanent. Best wishes for a good outcome! Kind regards.

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  11. Yes I also stutter more when it is
    cold. But there are a couple of other things that also affect my stuttering such as smokeing. I have
    also had a weight problem all my life and find that when I am at a normal weight I stutter a lot less
    have many other PWS noticed any change in there stuttering when they lose or gain weight.

    regards

    Woody

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  12. Hi Woody, the increase in stuttering when smoking can be explained by the nicotine in tobacco which has been proved to increase stress levels. And stress generally tends to increase stuttering. I suspect that something similar happens when overweight; being overweight can impact on self-image and confidence; this in turn increases stress and so indirectly leads to more stuttering. Other people have also mentioned this effect of being overweight on their stuttering, so it seems that you are not alone.

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