Hoarseness is a common symptom in older individuals and may reflect a wide variety of pathologic, medical, physiologic, and/or functional causes. Although vocal fold atrophy is one of the more common reported findings in the elderly, inconclusive information is known about the differential diagnosis and cause of dysphonia in older individuals. The purpose of this investigation was to review the cause of hoarseness in all patients older than 65 years and to determine any correlation with advancing age and other demographic factors. Additionally, we wanted to determine the effect vocal pathology has on objective voice measures with advancing age. The two most common causes of hoarseness found in 393 patients older than 65 years were vocal fold bowing and unilateral vocal fold paralysis, followed by benign vocal fold lesions, voice tremor, and spasmodic dysphonia. Although objective measures of vocal function were abnormal compared with reported normative data, they did not increase in severity with advancing age. Apparently, the compounding effect of age on underlying vocal pathology does not increase the severity of the vocal disturbance, at least as represented by objective voice measures. The high incidence of medical illnesses seen in this population also needs to be kept in mind because it may further affect the underlying voice disturbance. It might be interesting to compare data on the patients' perceptions of their vocal disturbance for each disorder as a function of age. It would also be helpful to know whether patients responded to treatment differentially based on age.
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