As we age, changes take place throughout our bodies. We lose mass in our muscles, our mucous membranes become thin and dry and we lose some of the fine coordination that we had at a younger age. When these kinds of changes take place in the larynx or voice box, the quality of our voice can be affected.
The Anatomy of Talking
When we speak, air passes through the larynx, or voice box in our throat. Inside the larynx there are two vocal cords or folds which are bands of smooth muscle that lie opposite each other. When we breathe, these vocal folds open to allow air to pass through. When we vocalize, the folds come together and vibrate when air passes between them. The sound from this vibration travels through the throat, nose, and mouth to produce speech or singing.
As we age, the vocal folds may become thin or bowed. When this happens, the folds may no longer meet in the middle. This condition is known as vocal cord atrophy or bowing or presbylaryngis.
Common Voice Changes
Presbylaryngis is most commonly seen in patients age 60 or older who report one or more of these symptoms:
• Pitch changes – Men’s voices become higher, thinner or reedy sounding. Women’s voices become lower;
• Endurance changes – You may be unable to speak or sing for as long a time as before;
• Volume changes – You may be unable to speak as loudly, and may have difficulty being heard in noisy situations. The voice may sound breathy and weak; and
• Tremors – You may have shakiness in the voice.
For singers, other factors may also contribute to changes in the quality of the voice. Weak muscles that control the voice box as well as lack of flexibility in the cartilage of the voice box may affect control of the voice, while dryness in the mouth can affect quality of sound. Reduced flexibility in the cartilage in the rib cage may result in less efficient breathing and may affect breath control.
Taking care of the voice
Overall body fitness will help keep the voice healthy. Using the voice regularly is also a key to a healthy voice.