5 Ways to Sound Younger

How to Preserve Your Youthful Voice

Getty-businesswoman.jpg
Does your voice sound energetic and youthful?. Rob Lewine / Image Source / Getty Images

Our culture definitely values youth, and while we may do all we can to maintain an anti-aging lifestyle to look good and age slowly, it's possible our voices might give us away. Changes in the structure and tissues within the larynx or voice box can produce changes to the aging voice, known as presbyphonia. Some of the differences you may hear involve shifts in pitch, volume and resonance. These differences are telling of age, but is it possible to sound younger?

I posed this question to Clark Rosen, director of the University of Pittsburgh's Voice Center. As an otolaryngologist Rosen treats patients with voice problems from misuse, illness and age.

"In many ways study of the aging voice is in its infancy, and we don't have all the answers about the precise aging process of the larynx," he explains. "It's not a simple answer, since voice production is complicated: singing, for example, involves your body from your kneecaps to the top of your head.  We don't yet know if there's an age-specific preventative voice strategy for people, say, in their fifties to adhere to in order to avoid voice problems later, but there are things you can do to sound young, as long as possible."

In fact, Rosen says older adults are seeking help from ear, nose and throat specialists like never before.

"Baby boomers are staying involved in the workplace as consultants, teachers or serving on a local board in their community.

They've taken good care of their hearts, their lungs and their bodies, and they want to make sure they preserve their ability to communicate with confidence as they age."

Here are some tips for sounding as young as you can:

1. Practice Good Vocal Hygiene

As Rosen explains, "We all learned as kids that dental hygiene involves doing something - or multiple things - every day to make sure we have healthy teeth for the rest of our lives.

It's the same thing with daily vocal habits to keep our voices healthy and strong."

Rosen recommends drinking lots of water, not smoking and avoiding abuse of the voice such as yelling, screaming or excessively clearing your throat, especially when the vocal folds, or vocal cords, within larynx are already inflamed due to a cold or infection.

"Monitor how much you abuse your voice, in what situations you could talk in a more appropriate tone or volume, to allow those vocal folds to heal."

2. Watch Your Pitch

According to the National Center for Voice & Speech, speaking at a pitch that's either too low or too high can strain your vocal cords. If you suspect that your pitch is inappropriate for you, consider seeking the help of a trained speech therapist.

To get an idea of the natural pitch for your voice, try saying "mm-hmm," as if you're answering in agreement with someone. Carry that note or pitch over as you begin a sentence. If you typically speak at a pitch that's higher or lower than this, you may be putting undue strain on your voice.

 

The National Center for Voice & Speech also cites the notes at which you naturally cough or laugh as signs of your own "perfect pitch."

3. Avoid Reflux

Rosen cautions that in recent years, laryngopharyngeal reflux - or backwash of irritating stomach acids onto your larynx - has been blamed for too many cases of chronic hoarseness. While true reflux is difficult to diagnose with certainty, Rosen says that hoarseness upon wakening in the morning, especially if a scratchy voice improves during the day as more mucus is produced and the body starts to heal the inflammation, is a pretty good indication of reflux problems, even in the absence of heartburn symptoms.

If this sounds familiar, avoid triggers like caffeine, alcohol, acidic or spicy foods and eating within 3 or 4 hours of bedtime. Ask your physician for advice and whether anti-reflux medication is a good option for you.

​4. Exercise Regularly

The same rules that govern a healthy lifestyle aimed at keeping your body young - that is, getting enough regular exercise and eating a nutritious diet - can help you maintain a youthful voice as well.  Staying fit will maintain your posture and musculature, both of which support a strong, resonant voice, and also provides an outlet for stress relief.

Chronic stress not only adversely affects your longevity, but can lead to tension and fatigue, which have negative effects on your voice, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.

5. Plump Up Your Vocal Folds

The same types of injections that make lips look more full and youthful can also help you sound younger. Ear, nose and throat specialists use a procedure called vocal cord augmentation, in which fluids are injected into the deepest muscle layers of the vocal folds to ensure that the vocal cords vibrate tightly together for the best resonant sound. This procedure ranges from temporary (a few months to 1.5 years) to permanent, when the injectable materials are surgically implanted. 

"We get good results from these procedures," says Lee Akst, director of the Johns Hopkins Voice Center in Baltimore. "Patients usually sound louder and their voice is improved. Still, there's a risk of side effects like bleeding, and it's uncomfortable; it also works best in conjunction with voice therapy."

The Bottom Line

While older adults may have simply accepted a failing voice in the past, baby boomers generally expect to be able to communicate with all their youthful enthusiasm and force well into their later years. If you're struggling with the sense you're sounding older than you prefer, keep yourself in good health to support your body's voice production. If you want more guidance, consult your ear, nose and throat specialist or speech pathologist for advice on therapy for your aging voice.

See Also

Sources:

Clark Rosen. Director, University of Pittsburgh Voice Center and Professor of Otolaryngology, University of Pittsburgh. Interview conducted by phone June 9, 2014.

Lee Akst. Director, Johns Hopkins Voice Center. Interview conducted by phone June 10, 2014.

Self-Help For Vocal Health. National Center for Voice and Speech Public Information Sheet. Accessed June 23, 2014.
http://ncvs.org/e-learning/strategies.html

Taking Care of Your Voice. US NIH National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) Public Information Sheet accessed June 24, 2014.
https://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/voice/pages/takingcare.aspx

Continue Reading