I recently met speech therapist and vocal coach Dr. Ann Utterback, Phd. on Twitter discussing the merits of the movie, The King’s Speech. Ann is the author of 8 books and over 50 articles on the voice. She has a useful online voice coaching blog and I am sharing this post of hers with you:
Aging and the Voice by Ann Utterback
I love it when readers tell me what they want! I had a request
recently from one of my tweeps to post something about aging and the
voice. This is an aspect of voice that is not often written about, so
I’m glad she asked.
If you consider what’s happening in the rest of our bodies when we
reach our fifth or sixth decade of life, you’ll have a clue as to what’s
happening to our voices.
As the years pile on, the first sign of aging we may notice in our
bodies is that we get a little stiff. The knees may provide sound
effects for us when we climb stairs. We might also find ourselves
getting a bit more winded as we climb those stairs. Those changes in
joints and lung function are affecting the vocal mechanism at the same
When the joints in our vocal mechanism get less flexible, it affects
our pitch and our articulation. Let’s talk about pitch first. The
joints that the vocal fold (vocal cord) tissue is attached to need to
move freely and easily. Add a little calcification (arthritis) and they
can’t do that as well. But that’s not all that happens that affects
pitch. In women, hormonal changes after menopause can cause their
voices to get lower in pitch. In men, it’s the opposite. Their voices
may rise in pitch due to a thinning of the vocal fold tissue. Sounds
crazy, but it’s true: men’s voices go up and women’s voices go down.
For both sexes, the calcification in joints makes it a bit more
difficult to articulate sounds as quickly and concisely as before. So
the voice quality is not only changing, but so is the articulation.
At the same time all this is happening in our throats, the muscles
that play a part in our breathing are getting slightly weaker because
we’re losing muscle mass as we age. We can’t take in quite as much air
because our intercostal muscles and diaphragm muscle are losing some power. All this can make our voices weaker and softer, and we may have to add more breath pauses as we talk.
Don’t think that this is all gloom and doom. In Part 2 of this post I
am going to give you lots of ways to combat the ravages of time and
keep your voice vibrant and strong. Watch for that in about a week. In
the meantime, one word of caution: Always see a doctor if you
experience any of these symptoms for more than a week: hoarseness,
vocal fatigue, voice cracking in pitch, coughing, pain when swallowing
or talking. See a doctor immediately if you feel swelling or a mass in