Something to shout about

As we age men’s voices go up, and women’s go down. In both sexes lung capacity decreases – by 50% by the time we’re 80 in some cases. In men the larynx gets thinner making their voices sound reedy, in women the lowering of the larynx and hormonal changes deepen the voice. Vocal cords need “grease”, and the number of glands producing fat decreases; the vocal folds dry out (worse if you smoke) and thin out, in what is known as menopausal voice syndrome (surgeons now offer a rather pricey voice lift – injecting stomach fat). Eventually arthritis of the vocal cord tissue occurs, causing a gravelly old cackle. Age-related voice change is more than a matter of tone. Young people talk down to older voices, since despite the experience and wisdom of those who’ve been around longer, a frail voice is all too often equated with a frail mind. Ever had the feeling a 20 year old cold caller is pronouncing rather than reading out their pitch at you?

But there are two things than are deadlier than anything else : stress and depression. As wrong thinking causes both, ultimately it means we can control how we sound, which can only be good news. Both stress and depression have a dramatic effect since they can alter pitch and timbre. Our voices are social facilitators; they help our career, can contribute to our sex appeal and prevent social isolation which can invite dementia in.

Arthritis and physical decline can be combatted with physical exercise, as can of course diminishing lung capacity. In fact physical exercise is the first thing voice surgeons prescribe, to see if the voice straightens itself out naturally. Shouting at the kids may be unavoidable but it places a strain on the throat and our voices will be lower immediately afterwards. The vocal cords can be kept in shape by joining a choir, singing hymns in church or even in the shower. Speech therapy can help. Dental implants can improve sound articulation.

So it’s worth thinking about! Of course some ladies have voices so high one wonders if they are faking it to be funny, but awareness when we speak can instantly change the way we sound. Let’s lighten up when we talk, in mood, in posture and in attitude. Otherwise there’s always helium!

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