The Aging Voice: Thicker Middle, Thinner Voice

 In Presence, Vocal Health
elderly woman playing the guitar

If you are over 50, you may have noticed your voice growing weaker, or phlegmier, or sounding more tired than it used to. Sorry to say, but the process that makes your knees sag also makes your vocal folds get thinner and lose strength and tone. Without sufficient bulk, the cords’ opposing tissues can’t meet in the middle to produce the vibrations that cause sound. Yes, it’s not fair that you get a thicker waistline, where you don’t need the bulk, and thinner muscle where you do! Although there is no fountain of youth, the search for the voice you used to have doesn’t have to end in frustration. According to laryngologists at USC, older voices can be revived with the proper care, exercise, treatment for acid reflux, and even collagen injections to plump the folds and close the gap. Note: you have to get collagen injected into the vocal folds; the improvement doesn’t come from just getting rid of frown lines.

Follow these guidelines

  • Stay hydrated. It seems that we need more water as we age because our bodies have lower water reserves. Dehydration contributes to phlegm in the throat. Besides, water is good for your heart! Drink water! Consider using steam and be sure to avoid things like cough drops and other lozenges with eucalyptus that can be drying. Consider glycerin based lozenges like Lakerol or Black Currant Pastilles.
  • Keep your body strong and healthy. Your body is your voice; improved circulation, respiration and stamina will improve your voice, too.
  • Once the vocal folds begin to lose their bulk, it’s less likely that you will damage your voice by being too aggressive with your voice (i.e. over-singing, yelling, or belting.) In fact, louder, stronger vocal exercises can improve the strength of an aging voice. Try some nice loud shower singing to start your day.

Just remember that you should always consult an otolaryngologist (ENT) or a Speech Language Pathologist if you are experiencing vocal weakness, and before beginning vigorous vocal practice. While age-related changes can cause voice changes, there are other vocal fold issues that must be ruled out before you begin to work on any strengthening program.

Special thanks for edits by Edie R. Hapner, PhD CCC-SLP, Professor
Tina and Rick Caruso Department of Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery
Keck Medicine of USC
University of Southern California
The USC Voice Center

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