Evolution of stuttering during a person’s lifetime

I’ve stuttered all my life – sometimes severely, sometimes moderately. I’m now in my sixties, and I’m fortunate in that my speech has been quite good in the past few years. But I’m not sure why.

I’ve been wondering whether there are any patterns or tendencies in the way stuttering tends to evolve during the course of people’s lifetimes?

Obviously there are great individual variations, based on individual circumstances: therapy, attitude, state of health, level of anxiety, etc. etc. But is ageing a factor? Do older people tend to be more fluent? Less? Has any research been done on this question?

Thanks for any thoughts on this issue.

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Comments

Evolution of stuttering during a person’s lifetime — 8 Comments

  1. Thank you Ora for sharing your experience -that is a very interesting question. I am not familiar of any specific research regarding patterns of stuttering as life evolves. I suppose that as we grow older we start accepting our strengths and weaknesses more easily. We would have developed strategies to cope with our conditions. We might even have found creative ways to exploit and use any condition to our benefit. I have heard many adults who stutter reflect that if only they realized there is more to life than stuttering – they would have enjoyed it more. It’s what makes them stand out, different, interesting, creative, humble and unique.

    Sent from iPad

  2. I’m not a trained researcher in this topic but I know how to use the search engine google scholar and curios about the answer to your question. So I made quick search for research on this.

    I find that there are a few – not very large and there are some potential methodological problems here – age related differences documented in the research literature:
    1) A small decrease in prevalence in stuttering with age was found by Craig et al (2002), reporting that: “These data, along with the prevalence data, provided an estimate of the incidence or risk of stuttering, which was found to range from 2.1% in adults (21–50 years) to 2.8% in younger children (2–5 years) and 3.4% in older children (6–10 years). Implications of these results are discussed.” The 2003-data from Craig seems to show larger differences, where the age 50+ have have the prevalence than the younger category 21-49 years.

    2) A change in where the stuttering occurs was found by Howell: Exchange of stuttering from function words to content words with age

    3) The anxiety level (higher with female stutterers) first increases, then decreases in the category 50+ (Craig 2005: The epidemiology of stuttering: The need for reliable estimates of
    prevalence and anxiety levels over the lifespan. This paper gives a good review of the state of what we know about this topic, I believe)

    I could not find any research on the severity of stuttering, but I guess that anxiety is a meaningful correlate of it.

    • What I meant was: “The 2003-data from Craig seems to show larger differences, where the age 50+ have have HALF (50%) of the prevalence compared to the younger category 21-49 years.

  3. Interesting question, Ora! Searching on google I tried the keywords

    progression of stuttering over lifespan

    and

    Stuttering +lifespan +progression

    and got some hits that looked promising. I’ve read (somewhere) that Van Riper’s fluency broke down again during his last years. I also know that there are many people whose stuttering gets a whole lot less severe as they age. I suspect:

    As many of us age, we become less concerned about externals and what other people think – have less anxiety over externals like gray hair, weight, wrinkles, and maybe even stuttering. Less anxiety may precipitate less stuttering. The “iceberg is melting and the fear, shame, anxiety, etc. is less.

    But for those who have a bigger neurological component and have used various controls effectively in the past, perhaps that gets harder to do with the aging process. And maybe the older person just doesn’t care what other people think anymore, and gets lets the stuttering out without working hard to control it.

    Another reason stuttering may be exacerbated in the aging is that certain illnesses (e.g. Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s) start to emerge. There is a body of information that some people who stuttered as children, find it emerges again with the onset of Parkinson’s. If the stuttering is related to word recall (word finding) the aging person may also find more dysfluencies emerging.

    Judy Kuster

  4. After the pre-school years stuttering seems to worsen throughout life. This is apparent from comparing data sets that measure stuttering severity during the pre-school years and during adulthood.

    Jones, M., Onslow, M., Packman, A., & Gebski, V. (2006). Guidelines for statistical analysis of percentage of syllables stuttered data. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 49, 867–878.

    There have been suggestions that stuttering decreases in prevalence and severity with older age.

    Shames, G. H., & Beams, H. L. (1956). Incidence of stuttering in older age groups. Journal of Speech and Hearing Disorders, 21, 313–316.

    Peters, H. F. M., & Starkweather, C. W. (1989). Development of stuttering throughout life. Journal of Fluency
    Disorders, 14, 303–321.

    However, the bulk of studies suggest that stuttering, and the various problems associated with it, do not abate with advancing age.

    Bricker-Katz, G., Lincoln, M., & McCabe, P. (2009). The persistence of stuttering behaviors in older people. Disability and Rehabilitation, 31, 646–658.

    Bricker-Katz, G., Lincoln, M., & McCabe, P. (2010). Older people who stutter: Barriers to communication and perceptions of treatment needs. International Journal of Language and Communication Disorders, 45, 15–30.

    Bricker-Katz, G., Lincoln, M., & McCabe, P. (2009). A life-time of stuttering: How emotional reactions to stuttering impact activities and participation in older people. Disability and Rehabilitation 31, 1742–1752.

  5. I think what Judy said is very true. The less concerned we are about external factors such as how the speech sounds to others, the easier it is to talk. It goes back to that very frustrating situation that so many people who stutter feel. The more you try to be fluent, the more you stutter (unless you are using some kind of speech control that is in itself difficult to do all the time). As a possible explanation, when thinking about how to talk fluently, the brain becomes aware of what words are being said and there is an effort to get them out. All this goes against the neurological processes of natural speaking. As people get older, they may care less about outcome and plan their words less. I have met many people who stuttered until their early twenties and then seemed to recover spontaneously. What might well have happened is that they gave up the control. Many have told me that they got tired of trying to talk and just let go. The result is that they processed speech more naturally. From my observations it is less a question of age and more a question of perspective. Age appears to be a factor because as we mature our perspective does change.

  6. Interesting thread . . . All the postings have relevance and identify what many of us recognize eventually. That is, there is no “One Way.” Or to put it differently: “One size does not fit all.”

    What do I mean? Each person will have their own set of experiences of which a problem with stuttering may be part of the whole. And, since nothing stays the same, not even and especially not from moment-to-moment, we should not expect our actual stuttering or our way of relating to it to stay the same year-after-year.

    How it will change is as uncertain as how most conceptual and actual responses change. So what do we do? We relate as skillfully as we can bringing to bear our knowledge and experience.

    Ellen-Marie