We all age, as our bodies unfailingly tell us. Muscles weaken, joints stiffen, hair thins, skin sags-the external signs are evident, albeit somewhat delayed and distorted in the increasing penchant toward masking time through cosmetics. But internal signs are also telling. Hearing dims, vision alters, and the voice takes on a different pitch and tone as the larynx gets older. All these natural and inevitable changes are the stuff of life, but fortunately there is a growing recognition within the health care profession that many of the alterations that come with age can be addressed to improve quality of life, and that age itself should not be used as the reason to dismiss the concerns of people who are experiencing life’s alterations.
Explore this issue:March 2008
For otolaryngologists who deal with older patients who come in with concerns over voice changes, a key factor to proper care, say experts in the field, is first and foremost to listen and be attentive to the patient without giving them, essentially, a diagnosis of age.
According to Stanley M. Shapshay, MD, Professor in the Division of Otolaryngology at Albany Medical College, who regularly sees and treats elderly patients with voice problems, otolaryngologists need to be mindful that voice problems in the elderly can indicate underlying medical conditions and-even if no other medical problems are found-treatments to improve the voice should be discussed with the patient. Don’t dismiss these patients, he said. They should be examined and treated with care because this [voice impairment] is a bona fide problem for these patients, adding that he often thinks his colleagues shrug this off as a sign of aging that an older person just has to accept.