With advancing age, the vocal fold muscle and mucosal covering can lose mass, appearing thinned as in the open vocal folds above.
As we grow older, the structures of the larynx change, often causing changes in the voice production system that results in vocal symptoms. Structural changes include loss of muscle fibers, thinning of the mucosal tissue that covers that vocal folds, and changes in the proteins and other molecules that make up the mucosal tissue.
These alterations can often lead to incomplete closure of the vocal folds during each cycle of vibration and irregular vibration.
The loss of vocal folds mass, associated with aging, can result in irregular mucosal wave vibration during voicing, and a "spindle-shaped" gap during phonation instead of complete closure, as in the photo above.
The incomplete closure of the vocal folds can reduce the dynamic range of the voice, making it difficult to speak sufficiently loud. The irregular vibration can make the voice sound rough, as if the speaker has a "frog" in the throat. In an effort to compensate for these changes, many people will contract the muscles of the vocal tract more, and generally use more effort to speak. This can lead to a sensation of fatigue.
Age-related changes in the way the nerves and muscles function can result in a wobble, or tremor to the voice. The pitch of the voice may be raised in men, or lowered in women, and the overall range of pitches at which an individual is capable of speaking may be reduced. It may be that some of these vocal changes are associated with menopause in women, or changes in the breathing capacity or circulatory changes.
As a group, however, these voice changes have come to be referred to as "presbyphonia" and are often dismissed as the inevitable result of growing older. But some of these voice changes can be overcome , usually with voice therapy. If you have been experiencing bothersome vocal changes, and feel that they may be a result of aging, make an appointment at the Institute to learn more about your larynx and voice, and what can be done to alleviate your vocal symptoms.