The Aging Voice

Growing older brings inevitable physical changes to the body. External signs (wrinkles, thinning hair) are most obvious, but internal changes occur, as well. The voice is not immune; pitch and tone change as the larynx ages. While this is mostly a natural process, any changes to the voice should be evaluated by a doctor to rule out an underlying medical condition.

Despite the fact that age-related voice abnormalities are common, there are steps you can take to improve the quality of an aging voice.

Characteristics of the Aging Voice

The medical term for an aging voice is presbyphonia. In addition to changes in pitch and tone, symptoms include decreased vocal projection and limited phonation. Perhaps the most noticeable characteristic of the aging voice is weakness and breathiness. Older voices tend to waver and sound hoarse. Several factors contribute to the decline in effectiveness of the voice.

As we age, the respiratory system loses elasticity. The thorax stiffens and the muscles weaken. As a result, there is a decrease in lung volume and capacity that translates to less airflow in and out of the lungs. In addition, the larynx undergoes age-related changes such as calcification of cartilage, weakening of muscles and joints, and stiffening of the vocal folds, preventing them from closing properly. Other factors that contribute to changes in the voice include hormonal changes, neurologic disorders, viruses, allergies, acid reflux and tumors.

Therapy for the Aging Voice

If changes in the voice are attributable to an underlying medical condition, there may be options for treatment. If the changes are primarily the result of prebyphonia, voice therapy or surgery may be effective, depending on the extent of vocal fold change.