Learn how to cope with aging voice

It is important to know that changes in voice with aging are common but not inevitable.

As you age your voice will most likely change, it may become weak, hoarse. Age-related voice changes vary widely, and people can begin to “sound old” in their 50s, while others retain a resonant voice well into their 80s. Aging voice or presbyphonia can make many seasoned folks not want to hold conversations for long periods of time, which can lead to social withdrawal.

Aging voice issues are real and can develop due to changes in muscle and other tissues in the larynx and the shrinking, thinning, and stiffening of the vocal cords. Diminished lung power (your torso may shrink, and your lungs may become smaller, stiffer, and less pliable), or just an overall decline in health can also be to blame for vocal quality changes.

Aging voice can be gradual, but it is important to know that changes in voice with aging are common but not inevitable.

Signs of aging voice

  • Higher pitch in men
  • Lower pitch in women
  • Loss of projection and resonance
  • Reduced volume and endurance
  • Voice tremors (shakiness)
  • Weak or breathy voice

How is aging voice diagnosed?

A comprehensive exam is usually best done by a laryngologist, a doctor trained to diagnose and treat voice disorders and who will accurately diagnose and help prevent you from having an even worse issue. A doctor will look for lesions, stiffness, paralysis, irregular movements, throat strain, incomplete closure of the vocal cords due to thinning, or other physical contributors to your voice problem. An exam of your vocal issue may include the following:
  • Medical history
  • Physical exam of head and neck
  • Flexible laryngoscope: A narrow, flexible tube with a light and camera, inserted through the nose
  • Rigid laryngoscope: A narrow, rigid viewing tube inserted through the mouth
  • Videostroboscope: A camera with a flashing light that provides a slow-motion view of the vocal cords as they vibrate
  • Laryngeal electromyography (EMG): Small needles inserted through the skin into voice box muscles to measure their electric currents
  • Sound (acoustic) analysis: Computer analysis that identifies abnormalities in the sounds produced by the vocal cords

Treatments for aging voice

There are several treatments a physician can use to help strengthen the speaking voice:
  • Botulinum toxin (Botox) injections to reduce vocal tremor
  • In-office temporary filler injections to enlarge vocal cords that have lost muscle tone
  • Permanent fat injections that use fat from the abdomen to enlarge vocal cords
  • Thyroplasty, a surgical procedure to place implants into the vocal cords for a stronger voice
  • Voice therapy with exercises prescribed by our speech-language pathology team to reduce throat strain, improve vocal stamina, and find the optimal pitch and volume

If you are a singer, seek to consult with a clinical singing voice specialist — speech pathologists who are also experienced singers and singing teachers. They are trained to work with the whole age range of voices and are skilled in treating the special problems that develop with the singing voice as we age.

According to voice therapists, the more you use your voice the stronger it will become, so regularly doing strength-building vocal exercises are key like singing in the shower, joining a choir, or reading out loud. The absolute worst thing for a voice is to not use it and to remain silent for long periods of time.