You really can’t tell when someone’s on testosterone replacement therapy. They just look and sound like regular, healthy people. Granted, they’re generally more robust, leaner, and younger looking than the majority, but you might chalk that up to good genetics and clean living.
However, you can almost always tell when someone isn’t on testosterone therapy.
He or she might lack muscle tone. She might be carrying a little extra body fat, and his eyes might not sparkle quite as much as they used do. He may walk differently, taking short unsteady steps instead of long, confident strides. There’s often an overall lack of energy and, well, a lack of presence.
What’s more, older people who aren’t receiving testosterone replacement therapy usually sound different. Their voice is definitely weaker and maybe even a little harsh or discordant. When they speak, it sounds almost like the hinges on a creaky coffin in one of those old vampire movies. It’s just the classic old person voice.
This change in pitch and vocal quality is called presbyphonia and a lot of it has to do with declining levels of testosterone.
Why Does the Adult Darth Vader Sound Different Than the Young Darth Vader?
When a young man hits puberty, his body is exposed to a flood of testosterone. In addition to making him more muscular, it also affects his voice. The vocal chords start to grow in length and thicken. Where the chords were once thin and higher pitched like the strings of a violin, testosterone turns them into a deeper, resonant cello.
Testosterone also increases the size of laryngeal cartilages, muscles, and ligaments and the overall effect is a drop in vocal pitch of about an octave. The vocal chords of females, too, are affected by the hormonal surges of puberty, but their voices only drop by about a third of an octave.
Male and female voices remain largely unchanged throughout the rest of their youth and middle age, provided their vocal chords aren’t affected by systemic disease or excessive pollution, smoking, or shouting.
That Instrument Needs New Strings
However, once testosterone levels start to decline appreciably, the voice changes, sometimes dramatically. Laryngeal muscles start to decrease in size and collagenous fibers decrease in quantity, leading to an overall stiffening of the vocal apparatus.
Whereas this stiffening usually causes older women’s voices to get deeper, men’s voices often get higher because of a change in pitch, which is determined by how fast the vocal folds vibrate.
This vibration is largely controlled by the length and thickness of the vocal chords and how well the muscles that surround them can tighten and relax. Testosterone, of course, plays a big part in the strength and size of muscles – even laryngeal muscles — so it’s only logical that low testosterone can cause the voice to weaken, too.
The net effect is that the old male voice is less powerful, higher pitched, and characterized by tonal abnormalities, while the old female voice, while also weak, is gruffer while also suffering from the same tonal abnormalities. Think Homer Simpson’s dad or Marge’s mom.
The effect is so pronounced that virtually any one with normal hearing can pretty much tell whether or not there’s an “old” person on the other end of the telephone.
No Need to Quit the Barbershop Quartet
It’s been OHMG’s experience, however, that men and women who start testosterone replacement therapy in middle age don’t experience this decline in vocal strength or quality. They continue to sound like young people, regardless of their chronological age.
Likewise, older people with weak voices can regain some of their vocal pitch, timbre, and steadiness by starting testosterone replacement therapy. It’s never too late, it seems.
Of course, sounding young may not be that important to you, unless you’re involved in sales, public relations, or any job or position where you have to verbally communicate with people. Even so, a young voice is just characteristic of the vitality and health that can often be attained through testosterone replacement therapy.