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What is Happening to My Voice?


When we age, not only do our aches and pains worsen, our teeth fall out, and our hair disappear, but our voices show signs of age as well. It is invariable and predictable, so it is good to understand why we can expect our voices to change, something about how it happens, and a couple of ways to minimize the change that comes with growing older.

While looking up information, I noticed that what happens to our larynx is not often described. It was very hard to get specific information. I still have a request in to NIH and the University of North Carolina and will share the information when I get it. In the meantime, here is some information I was able to find through internet searches and email responses from medical sites.

Picture of Vocal Cords

Iím sure youíve noticed that you can talk with someone on the phone and tell about what age group they are: The voice is a sure way to tell someone is younger or older. Aging will cause changes in the larynx which will lead to the creaky or gravely voice often heard in the elderly. The larynx is also referred to as the voice box. The aging effects on the Ďvoice boxí is called presbyphonia.

Iíve heard the change in all the old folks I know and love, so I wanted to know what is actually going on with our larynx as we age: What actually happens to make us sound older? I did find some information about how our voice is made and the part our vocal cords play.

Robert J. Sinard wrote in "Geriatrics 1998", The Aging Voice: How to differentiate disease from normal changes (Can be read at "Although there is no single unifying characteristic to defying the aging voice, a consideration of the pathophysiologic changes of aging on the organs responsible for voice production will help one to understand the potential efforts.

The "true vocal folds" are also called inferior vocal folds or inner folds. The inner folds are made up of elastic fibers that help make sounds when air is forced between the cords of the larnyx. When we want to talk, the folds vibrate from the air we exhale. The inside muscles of the larynx attach to the cartilages and vocal folds and contract to change the position of the vocal cords and vibrate to make the sound waves. The thyroid cartilage is what protects the vocal cords.

Our vocal cords are moved by muscles which can make the vocal cords tight or loose. The tighter the cord is, the higher the voice is. The cords get less elastic, and are unable to perform as they do in a younger person. The voice changes.

The John Hopkins Center reports that changes to the brain and spinal cord can affect neurological control of the laryngeal muscles. According to Andrew Gout of the John Hopkins Center for Laryngeal and Voice Disorders, as we get older, the framework cartilages of the larynx ossify (turn to bone) and the cartilages responsible for vocal fold movement become less mobile.

Vocal cords become slowly more thin and weakened with age. Sometimes this results in a higher sounding pitch, but when thickened mucosa increases the vibratory mass, it results in a lower pitched voice. This increased edema is thought to be related to the loss of hormonal influence on the mucosa of the vocal cords comments.

In The Aging Voice Robert Sinard also commented that "A gradual decrease in pulmonary function in the older person may result in a loss of breath support for the voice.

Some diseases that can affect the seniorís voice are Parkinsonís disease and diabetes.

Heartburn (reflux acid) also may cause a number of problems related to voice production, including common harshness, sore throat, cough during sleep, phlegm, and a sensation of a lump in the throat. Gregory Grillone, M.D., otolaryngologist and director of the Voice CenteratBoston Medical Center says that as we get older, the vocal cords get a bit weaker and a little spread apart. Hoarseness, raspiness and breathiness are some ways which most people might describe an aged voice.

There are certain things you can do to help your voice stay younger sounding for a longer time. Lots of water helps keep the larynx moist. Smoking will increase the sounds of hoarseness.

Try not to yell. I guess the more you use it the weaker it gets too. Did you know that rheumatoid arthritis can limit the motion of the cricoarylenoid joint, leading to hoarseness because the vocal cord cannot move well.

As long as you are aware of your larynx and try not to shout or yell and use your voice obsessively then your voice can stay younger sounding longer.

If you have an already deep or harsh type voice and canít seem to get it sounding better, then learn to accept the natural and unique voice that you have been blessed with.

We all are unique, and so are our voices.

Knowing that the larynx will age in all of us, just like lots of other aging factors, can educate us to the need to care for the voice. And remember, we can help - but can not change - the inevitable. So have fun with your voice while you can. hee hee


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