Age-related vocal changes often misdiagnosed, study finds

November 19, 1999

SAN FRANCISCO - A new study of people age 70 to 80 suggests that the human voice undergoes many changes during the normal aging process, returning some men to the higher-pitched tone they once had before adulthood and leaving some women with a deeper voice.

Researchers say the study points to the need for an acoustical test to accurately monitor potential voice disorders in the elderly. Currently, speech pathologists use tests based on the voice patterns of young and middle-aged people, which can lead them to confuse normal vocal changes related to aging with a voice or speech disorder.

"We know that there is a natural aging process and that it affects the voice," said Steve Xue (pronounced SHWA), assistant professor of hearing and speech sciences at Ohio University and lead author of the study. "We wanted to know if those vocal changes were sufficient enough to warrant a diagnostic test for older people. Clearly, they are."

The study, which included 21 men and 23 women, was completed last year and presented Saturday at the annual meeting of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association in San Francisco.

Researchers collected voice samples and examined frequency, pitch, tone and other vocal characteristics from the elderly study participants and compared those findings with earlier studies of young and middle-aged people. Using acoustical devices currently employed by speech pathologists ­ which are based on normal speech by younger people ­ the researchers found that the elderly study participants had significantly poorer vocal quality than their younger cohorts.

In addition to the higher frequency noted in men and the lower tones recorded in women, the researchers also found that study participants had a harder time keeping a stable tone when speaking and often had voices that were harsher and more hoarse than those of younger people.

While Xue is interested in the study's findings about age-related changes in voice, he said the implications of the work are most immediate for clinicians. Until now, speech pathologists had very little data to indicate the normal voice and speech patterns of the elderly, which they can use with conventional acoustical tests to accurately identify problems and prescribe treatment. But this research provides some normative data, Xue said.

"If you use a younger person's yardstick to measure an older person's problems, you are likely to have a misdiagnosis," he said. "Speech pathologists should be cautious in diagnosing speech problems in the elderly because they will have quite different voice and speech patterns than what the test will measure. If these tests indicate a problem, they can look at the normative data we've collected and form a more accurate diagnosis."

Xue plans to conduct another study on elderly voice patterns with a larger study group, continuing the work he began while a faculty member at Arkansas State University and the University of Houston. In addition to studying vocal changes, he plans to examine the physiological age-related changes in the human vocal tract ­ the tube from the larynx to the lips.

The research was co-authored by Dimitar Deliyski, a digital engineer formerly with Kay Elemetrics Corp. in New Jersey, now with Vocal Point, Inc. in San Francisco. Xue holds an appointment in the College of Health and Human Services.
-end-
Written by Kelli Whitlock.

Ohio University

Related Aging Articles from Brightsurf:

Surprises in 'active' aging
Aging is a process that affects not only living beings.

Aging-US: 'From Causes of Aging to Death from COVID-19' by Mikhail V. Blagosklonny
Aging-US recently published ''From Causes of Aging to Death from COVID-19'' by Blagosklonny et al. which reported that COVID-19 is not deadly early in life, but mortality increases exponentially with age - which is the strongest predictor of mortality.

Understanding the effect of aging on the genome
EPFL scientists have measured the molecular footprint that aging leaves on various mouse and human tissues.

Muscle aging: Stronger for longer
With life expectancy increasing, age-related diseases are also on the rise, including sarcopenia, the loss of muscle mass due to aging.

Aging memories may not be 'worse, 'just 'different'
A study from the Department of Psychological & Brain Sciences in Arts & Sciences adds nuance to the idea that an aging memory is a poor one and finds a potential correlation between the way people process the boundaries of events and episodic memory.

A new biomarker for the aging brain
Researchers at the RIKEN Center for Biosystems Dynamics Research (BDR) in Japan have identified changes in the aging brain related to blood circulation.

Scientists invented an aging vaccine
A new way to prevent autoimmune diseases associated with aging like atherosclerosis, Alzheimer's disease, and Parkinson's disease was described in the article.

The first roadmap for ovarian aging
Infertility likely stems from age-related decline of the ovaries, but the molecular mechanisms that lead to this decline have been unclear.

Researchers discover new cause of cell aging
New research from the USC Viterbi School of Engineering could be key to our understanding of how the aging process works.

Deep Aging Clocks: The emergence of AI-based biomarkers of aging and longevity
The advent of deep biomarkers of aging, longevity and mortality presents a range of non-obvious applications.

Read More: Aging News and Aging Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.