Published: Jan. 20, 2010
Updated: Aug. 4, 2011
As we age, our voices change. The most dramatic voice changes are those during childhood and adolescence. The larynx (or voice box) and vocal cord tissues do not fully mature until late teenage years.
Hormone-related changes during adolescence are particularly noticeable among boys. The rapid changes in the size and character of the larynx cause characteristic pitch breaks and voice “cracking” during puberty as we learn to use our rapidly changing voice instrument.
After several decades of relatively stable voice, noticeable change can occur in the later years of life. As our bodies age, we lose muscle mass, our mucous membranes thin and become more dry, and we lose some of the fine coordination that we had in younger years. Changes occur in the larynx, such as vocal cord atrophy or bowing (also called presbyphonia or presbylaryngis), and this leads to changes in the voice.
Common changes in the voice as we age, include:
These symptoms are amplified by the reduced hearing ability that occurs in our peers as we age.
Note that much of the time, hoarseness and vocal difficulties are not simply age-related changes. Any change that you notice in your voice should be a warning sign that something may be wrong. Almost all voice problems are highly treatable.
If you are bothered by your voice, take action. Consider a vocal fitness program (i.e. voice therapy), as healthy voice use is the key to voice preservation. Under the professional guidance of a voice-trained speech-language pathologist, voice therapy exercises can make a big difference.
Some people are candidates for medical or surgical treatment designed to increase the bulkiness of the vocal cords. These interventions can improve the steadiness, strength, or endurance of the voice.