Aging has vast effects on our body, and our voice is not immune to that process. A lot of elderly patients come to my clinic seeking voice therapy. Some after operations, some due to general hoarseness and some due to vocal output problems caused by a stroke or Parkinson’s Disease. Many patients who seem to be in overall good health, however, come in complaining about their voice. The last group of patients are encountering what is called Presbyphonia, or “Aging Voice Disorder.”
What is “Aging Voice Disorder?”
Presbyphonia is a result of anatomical and physiological changes to your voice that happen while aging.
Presbyphonia occurs during the aging process. It is brought on by decreased use and volume of the respiration system, as well as decreased activity in the vocal muscles. Presbylarynx is the aging of the larynx, causing stiffness of the joints and cartilages around your larynx. Lower activity of the vocal muscles, a decrease in collagen and vocal cord mucosa change (thinner for men, thicker for women).
What Your Doctor May Find
Examination by your ENT will show bowing of vocal cords, open glottis during phonation, open rear 1/3 of glottis, hypertrophy or thinning of vocal cords. There is not an exact age when Presbyphonia is expected to start. Current research suggests anywhere from the age of 40 to 65.
The Symptoms of an Aging Voice
So what do we get? Hoarseness, pitch breaks, devoicing, lower volume and a tremulous voice. The main complaint would be lack of social communication due to a weak voice. Interestingly, there might be rising pitch (higher basic tone) with aging men, and decreasing pitch (lower basic tone) with aging women. (Errands 2002).
How Voice Therapy Can Help
Using specialized voice therapy, we can target vocal cords in order to increase voice strength. Good vocal hygiene is a must. Breath support techniques will improve respiratory capacity as well as vocal volume and production. It is good practice for the speech pathologist to teach the patient how to project his voice. This improves volume without putting more effort on the vocal mechanism.
The good news: voice therapy is very effective for Aging Voice Disorder.
Practice makes perfect! As evident with singers and actors who remain active in their golden years. They can produce clear and loud voices well into their 70s and 80s (Colton & Casper 1996). A combination of good voice therapy, good vocal hygiene and maintaining good health will most certainly improve any aging voice condition.