What is Presbyphonia?
As we age, our bodies progressively change – our hair may start to thin and grey, our joints stiffen, our skin changes and our muscles may weaken. Aging affects the whole body, including the way we communicate and sound. Presbyphonia is a term used to describe structural changes of the larynx caused by aging, which may account for voice alterations as a person gets older. As part of the normal aging process the muscles that sustain and support our vocal folds as well as the structures of the voice box (larynx) may alter and change affecting the way our voice sounds. The cause of presbyphonia is generally related to aging of the structures of the larynx, and failure of the vocal folds to close firmly and steadily. Other causes may include neurological deficits, changes to the way we breathe (reduced pulmonary capacity), or further underlying medical conditions (Goodman, 2008).
Symptoms of Presbyphonia
Dysphonia is a term given to disorders of the voice. Essentially the term refers to the inability to produce adequate sound using the vocal mechanism. People with presbyphonia may experience:
- Occasional or frequent breaks in their voice
- A breathy vocal quality
- Laryngeal tension
- Sudden interruptions in the normal flow of speech – stoppages in phonation
- Reduced pitch and loudness
Symptom severity varies from person to person. If the presentation is severe, a person’s intelligibility (or ability to be understood) can be significantly impacted. It may be difficult for others to understand their speech. Even if symptoms are initially mild, they may worsen over time if the appropriate treatment is not sought.
Consultation with an ENT should be sort first. The ENT will perform an examination of the larynx to assess the structure and function of the vocal folds. The ENT will then refer a patient to a Speech Pathologist who will provide therapy to lessen the symptoms of presbyphonia and optimise vocal quality and production.
This article was written by our speech pathologist Eugene Pillay who is a Speech Pathology Australia member.
If you have questions about Presbyphonia or for results focused speech therapy, contact your local doctor who will arrange for you to see a speech pathologist in Sydney.
Colton, R.H., & Casper, J.K. (1996). Understanding voice problems: A physiological perspective for diagnosis and treatment (2nd ed.). USA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.
Goodman, A. (2008). Retrieved on 17/10/13 from: enttoday.org