Do People Shrink with Old Age?

You may have noticed that grandma is getting shorter. Well, it’s not an illusion. People shrink as they age and there are simple scientific explanations as to why we get smaller as we age. A person’s growth may ebb and flow but sometime around early adulthood, you can expect to have reached your maximum height. Starting in or around your 30s, you will begin to get shorter. Men can gradually lose an inch between the ages of 30 to 70, and women can lose about two inches. After the age of 80, it is possible to lose another inch regardless of gender.

While it is normal to lose height with age, we should pay attention to how fast we lose height. Shrinking too fast can be an indication of a much bigger problem. Those who lose one to two inches within a year should consult their doctor as they may be at a higher risk for spinal and hip fractures as well as heart disease.

While some changes to our body are out of our control and are just a part of age, there are some habits that cause more height loss than other. These habits include slouching, lack of weight bearing exercise, smoking, alcohol use, steroid use, excessive caffeine consumption, extreme dieting and poor nutrition. A diet rich in calcium and vitamin D can help keep your bones strong.

A Loss of Height as We Age

Osteoporosis, which literally means “porous bones, is the most common cause of significant height loss for older adults. Our height is determined by the length of the leg bones, the spine, and the skull. While the leg bones and the skull remain relatively unchanged in length once we reach adulthood, our vertebrae (spinal bones) tend to shrink. Osteoporosis occurs when bone density decreases at a greater rate and the body stops producing new bone.

There are several contributing factors associated with height loss in older adults, including:

  •     Poor health
  •     Poor nutrition
  •     Collapsing vertebrae or compression fractures
  •     Compression and dehydration of the discs between the vertebrae
  •     Curvature of the spine
  •     Loss of bone density or osteoporosis
  •     Loss of muscle in the torso – contributing to a stooped posture
  •     Metabolic changes in the body
  •     Flattening of the arches of the feet

Stand Tall

If you notice a significant shortening of your height over a relatively short period of time, you should consult your orthopedist. Here are some ways that you can ensure that you remain standing tall:

  •     Focus on good posture: Good posture can keep your bones strong, prevent joint pain, and keep you balanced.
  •     Stay active: Exercises that force your muscles to work against gravity, such as aerobics, jogging and weightlifting, help strengthen both the bones and muscles that support good posture and help maintain normal height. Try taking stairs instead of the elevator, parking farther from your destination to force yourself to walk more, stand instead of sitting. Weight lifting, even with small weights, will also help strengthen your bones.
  •     Maintain a healthy diet: Research shows that eating foods rich in calcium and vitamin D (such as dairy products, fruits and vegetables) can strengthen your bones and reduce your risk of osteoporosis and fractures. Experts recommend that you get 1,200 milligrams of calcium per day to help prevent bone loss.
  •     Reduce your alcohol consumption: Alcohol interferes with the body’s ability to absorb calcium and vitamin D, both essential for strong bones.
  •     Limit steroid use: Steroid medications can affect the rates by which calcium and vitamin D are absorbed into the bones. This reduction can lead to bone loss, broken bones and osteoporosis. If you use corticosteroids, be sure to speak with your orthopedist about any affects they may be having on your bone density.

Get Scanned

A bone density test tells you if you have normal bone density, low bone density (osteopenia) or osteoporosis. It is the only test that can diagnose osteoporosis before a broken bone occurs. The lower your bone density, the greater your risk of breaking a bone. A bone density test can help you and your healthcare provider:

  •     Learn if you have weak bones or osteoporosis before you break a bone
  •     Predict your chance of breaking a bone in the future
  •     See if your bone density is improving, getting worse or staying the same
  •     Find out how well an osteoporosis medicine is working
  •     Let you know if you have osteoporosis after you break a bone

Ask Your Doctor

If you are concerned about your bone health or think you may be at risk for osteoporosis, call us to set up an appointment. Your orthopedic surgeon may recommend a bone density test. The results will help your doctor evaluate your bone density and determine your rate of bone loss to assess whether you might be a candidate for medication to help slow bone loss.

To learn more about bone health or to schedule an appointment with one of our specialists, call us at 800-698-1280.

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