As individuals grow older, the voice naturally ages and loses its youthful sound. Muscles and other tissues in the larynx and vocal cords may shrink, thin and stiffen, affecting the quality of the voice. Individuals concerned about their aging voice may consult a laryngologist to determine the exact cause and begin treatment.
Symptoms of Aging Voice
Signs of an aging voice may include:
- Higher pitch in men
- Lower pitch in women
- Loss of resonance and projection
- Voice tremors, or shakiness
- Reduced volume and endurance
- Weak or breathy voice
Causes of Aging Voice
During the aging process, muscles in the voice may shrink (or atrophy), mucous membranes may become thinner and connective tissue may stiffen, leading to an aging voice.
An adult’s voice may change as a result of an aging voice box and respiratory system, and/or a decline in overall health status.
Aging voice box and respiratory system: Over time, the joints of the larynx may thin and the cartilage may calcify further. The vocal cords may become dry and lose elasticity and flexibility. In addition, the ribs may become more calcified, the torso may shrink and the lungs may become smaller, stiffer and less flexible. As a result, the voice is weakened.
Medical condition: An aging voice may be a sign of a developing medical condition. Neurological conditions and chronic fatigue may cause shaking, or tremor, in the voice. Cancer, a polyp and paralysis may also negatively impact the vocal cords.
When to Consult a Doctor
Some individuals may lose confidence in their voice and choose to avoid social gatherings, singing in church, or volunteering. This may lead to social isolation, depression and a decline in overall health.
Individuals experiencing voice issues should consult with a voice specialist, laryngologist or a speech pathologist to identify the exact cause and recommend treatment.
Diagnosing Aging Voice
During an initial visit, the voice specialist will conduct a thorough assessment of the voice. The specialist will begin by discussing symptoms and go on to perform a physical exam that will involve inspecting the larynx for signs of a medical condition. The specialist will also review the patient’s personal and family medical history to determine if the condition may be genetic.
The voice box may be examined using one or more of the following instruments:
- Flexible laryngoscope. A narrow, flexible tube with a light and camera attached that is inserted through the nose.
- Videostroboscope. A camera and flashing light that records the vocal cords as they vibrate.
- Rigid laryngoscope. A narrow, rigid tube with a camera that is inserted through the mouth.
Additional testing may be necessary:
- Sound (acoustic) analysis. The analysis identifies abnormalities in the sounds produced by the vocal cords.
- Laryngeal electromyography (EMG). Small needles are inserted through the skin into the voice box muscles to measure their electric currents.
Depending on the cause of the aging voice, the following treatments may be recommended by the laryngologist:
- Temporary filler injections to enlarge vocal cords that have shrunk.
- Permanent fat injections (using fat taken from the abdomen) to enlarge the vocal cords.
- Botox injections to reduce shaking in the voice.
- A thyroplasty procedure that involves inserting implants into the vocal cords for a stronger voice.
- Voice therapy to help improve vocal stamina, reduce throat strain, and identify the patient’s optimal pitch and volume.