When you go through puberty, your voice deepens. Men's voices often deepen up to an octave, while women's voices usually move about three tones lower.
After puberty and well into older adulthood, some people's voices may change, but not everyone's. Men's voices tend to go up in pitch. Women's voices tend to go down.
However, other changes can occur including:
- Lower volume
- Lower resonance
- Tiring more quickly
- Tremors or shakiness
- Sounding weak
Most of the time vocal changes such as deepening are completely normal. If your voice changes as you age and it bothers you, there are special exercises and potential treatments that can help.
Why Does Your Voice Change as You Age?
Lack of flexibility. As you age, some of the mechanisms of your "voice box" can lose flexibility. This alters the tone and pitch of your voice.
Vocal fatigue. As you age, all of your muscles naturally lose mass. This includes the muscles of your vocal cords and voice box that make your voice work. The older you get, the more your voice may become hoarse or "tired" feeling as a day wears on. You may also find it tiring to talk for long periods.
Medical issues. Neurological conditions, polyps, nodules, or cancer can all affect your voice.
Diagnosis and Treatment for Vocal Issues
Visit your doctor. If you suspect your vocal changes are caused by a medical issue, visit your doctor. They may refer you to an ear, nose, and throat specialist (ENT). To diagnose you, they will perform a physical examination, take your medical history, and review your symptoms.
They will also examine your vocal cords and larynx using a flexible or rigid laryngoscope. A doctor inserts this device through your mouth or nose to get a good look at your vocal tissue. They may also conduct a videostroboscopy exam, which is similar but takes a slow-motion video to get an even closer look.
If your doctor diagnoses you with a medical issue affecting your voice, they may recommend treatment. Depending on the issue, treatments may include:
- Exercises: You will work with a specialist to learn daily exercises to strengthen your voice.
- Microsurgery: This treatment is for polyps and cysts on your vocal cords.
- Injections: Botox injections can help with a tremoring vocal fold. Other injections make weakened vocal cords plumper, producing a stronger sound.
- Vocal Fold Implant: A vocal fold implant can help people with partial or complete vocal cord paralysis.
How to Care for Your Voice
Throughout the aging process, it's important to protect and care for your voice. Here are some tips to prevent or slow your vocal issues and significant vocal changes.
Speak daily. Use your voice daily. If you don't have anyone to talk to on a particular day, read a story from the newspaper out loud or call a friend on the phone.
Hum. Humming into a straw, also called straw phonation, for 15 minutes per day can keep your vocal cords and larynx healthy. You can try using different lengths and diameters of straws to strengthen your vocal cords further.
Sing. Try singing. If you're not a great singer, join a choir or sing along to your favorite song in the shower. Try alternating singing with straw phonation for variety.
Practice good hygiene. Here are some easy ways to practice good vocal hygiene as you age:
- Avoid irritants like cigarette smoke.
- Drink at least 64 ounces of water per day.
- Avoid whispering.
- Don't cough or clear your throat if you can help it.
- Stay active with the rest of your body.
- Get enough sleep.
- Warm your voice up before doing something demanding like making a speech.
- Use an amplification system instead of trying to shout over a crowd.
- Move to a quieter area when trying to converse in a loud space instead of yelling.
- Stomp and clap at sporting games instead of cheering or yelling.