Aging and your voice
It has been said that change is the only constant, and our voice is not immune to this occurrence. Presbylaryngeus refers to age-related changes to the larynx, or voice box. Just like other body systems, the laryngeal structures, including the vocal cords, undergo changes such as muscle loss and stiffening of cartilages as we age. These changes can impact vocal range, pitch, and vocal quality. Breathiness, hoarseness, and strain are some of the commonly reported vocal quality changes perceived in aging individuals.
Changes in vocal function oftentimes have a profound impact on psychosocial aspects of aging individuals, thus impacting quality of life. Consequently, researchers have studied methods to slow the rate of change, or even reverse some age-related changes. While studies examining the effectiveness of surgical intervention reveal only marginal functional benefit regarding the aging voice, Saunder’s et al. (2010) reported vocal exercise may be useful for improving voice in older adults.
Just as regular exercise can minimize negative effects on the aging body, vocal function exercises can alleviate the effects of presbylaryngis on the aging larynx. One vocal function exercise program developed by Joseph Stemple includes three steps: vocal warm-ups, pitch glides, and prolonged phonation of /o/ at selected pitches. In current research studies of elderly people using Stemple’s program, there have been patient-reported improvements in voice-related dysfunction as determined by a Vocal Handicap Index. Preliminary findings are promising, however, additional research still needs to be completed in order to better understand the outcomes of behavioral techniques in elderly patients with presbylaryngis.
If you or someone you know suffers from age-related vocal changes, see your local Speech-Language Pathologist to find out what treatment options may be available for you!
Tay, E. Y. L., Phyland, D. J., & Oates, J. (2012). The effect of vocal function exercises on the voices of aging community choral singers. Journal of Voice, 26(5), 672-e19.
Sauder, C., Roy, N., Tanner, K., Houtz, D. R., & Smith, M. E. (2010). Vocal function exercises for presbylaryngis: a multidimensional assessment of treatment outcomes. Annals of Otology Rhinology and Laryngology-Including Supplements, 119(7), 460.