Yes, You are Shrinking

Does the reach to the top shelf in the kitchen cabinet seem to be a greater stretch with each passing year?  Do your grown children or grandchildren seem impossibly tall? You are definitely not imagining it or alone in the vertically-challenged struggle – yes you are shrinking with age. 

As much as older adults try to stay active and maintain good posture, over time the discs in the human spine, made up of mostly water, will begin to flatten out.  As these little shock absorbers lose water over time, the spaces between the vertebrae become smaller and older adults begin to lose some height. 

According to a recent post in The Conversation, older people also lose muscle mass and bones can become thinner and the spaces between the bones in joints smaller hence the shrinking measurement.  While it is a normal part of aging to lose some height, a change greater than 2 inches or 5cm can be a sign of osteoporosis, which can cause bones to become weak and brittle – and easier to break. 

A kyphosis or hunchback, an exaggerated forward rounding of the back common among elderly women can also cause a loss of height for seniors.  While a mild curvature of the back may not cause significant problems, a severe kyphosis can cause pain and disfigurement along with other health problems.  In some cases, surgery is needed to help correct the deformation of the spine.  

If you want to feel a little better about your height, measure yourself first thing in the morning.  Over the course of the day, older adults can lose up to an inch of height as the pressure of gravity causes the discs in the spine to lose water and flatten.  Eat a healthy diet, spend time outdoors for a dose of vitamin D and get regular exercise including strength training at least twice a week to preserve muscle mass and bone density.   Also, invest in a safe and sturdy step stool for those hard-to-reach places.  Move often-used dishes and appliances to a lower shelf within easy reach. 

Learn more about how to avoid losing height as you age by following this link to the Cleveland Clinic’s Health Essentials page.