Philadelphia Ear, Nose and Throat Associates: PENTA

Age and the voice

  Age affects the voice significantly, especially during childhood and older age.

Children’s voices are particularly fragile. Voice abuse during childhood may lead to problems that persist throughout a lifetime. It is extremely important for children to learn good vocal habits and for them to avoid voice abuse. This is especially true among children who choose to participate in vocally taxing activities such as singing, acting and cheerleading. Many promising careers and vocal avocations have been ruined by enthusiastic but untrained voice use. For children with vocal interests, age-appropriate training should be started early. Any child with unexplained or prolonged hoarseness should undergo prompt, expert medical evaluation performed by a laryngologist (ear, nose and throat doctor) specializing in voice care.

In geriatric patients, vocal unsteadiness, loss of range and voice fatigue may be associated with typical physiologic aging changes such as vocal fold atrophy (wasting). In routine speech, such vocal changes allow a person to be identified as “old” even over the telephone. Among singers, they are typically associated with flat pitch and a “wobble” often heard in older amateur choir singers. However, recent evidence has shown that many of these acoustic phenomena are not caused by irreversible aging changes. Rather, they may be consequences of poor laryngeal respiratory and abdominal muscle condition undermining the power source of the voice. The medical history usually reveals minimal aerobic exercise, and shortness of breath climbing stairs. With appropriate condition of the body and voice, many of the characteristics associated with vocal aging can be eliminated, and a youthful sound can be restored.