Put your best voice forward!

For the Baby Boomer generation, there is no such thing as growing old gracefully.  The quest to look younger, feel younger, act younger—and even sound younger–is the ultimate goal. 

Does the voice really change with age?  Research shows that older peoples’ voices often develop breathiness, weakness and loss of range or quality, which can sometimes be perceived as an “old” voice.

The voice can change for a variety of reasons.  Vocal cords are muscles.  In women, the change in hormones around menopause will affect their structure, making them heavier. This will cause the pitch they produce to drop.

For both men and women, there are other changes – first, respiratory volume decreases with age and this affects the vocal cords. Decreased volume and speed of airflow usually means a lower pitch for both genders.  The more erratic the airflow, the more “hoarse” a person can sound, too. 

Also, the vocal folds themselves can change as we age.  The muscle can show signs of atrophy which means the vocal cords cannot move their entire range of motion. This produces a more monotone sound and often some air in the voice which we call breathiness.  This can decrease the volume (loudness) with which one speaks. 

So, is there anything people can do to sound “younger”?  Keep using your voice!  The voice does respond to use and exercise so if you are someone who loves to sing in church, keep doing it, even if it doesn’t sound like it used to.  Try to read aloud at a comfortable loud level each day for about 5 minutes to “exercise” the muscles of voice and respiration.  Exercise, stay healthy, and get good sleep!  The voice is responsive to our overall well-being, so the stronger you feel, the better your voice will respond. 

Generally, as people age, sounding younger isn’t as important as sounding clear.  Voice is a very complex task and it requires coordination of many body functions.  However, “poor voice quality” is not a normal change in aging and anyone having difficulty with their voice or believing that their voice is not sounding “normal” should consult with a speech-language pathologist with experience in voice disorders or an otolaryngologist (ENT) with experience in voice disorders.  Here at ECU, the Speech-Language and Hearing Clinic is able to do voice evaluations and if needed, refer patients to an ENT.

Dr. Kathy Cox, Associate Professor
Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders