Lillian’s mother, Eloise, had been a stickler about posture when Lillian was growing up. She had often reprimanded Lillian and her siblings for slouching. “Lillian,” she would say, “Stand up straight and proud. You’re too beautiful to go about slouching like that.” As Eloise aged, though, she developed a stooped posture with a severe rounding in her upper back. Eloise’s doctor diagnosed her with kyphosis. Lillian had never heard of kyphosis.
Lillian isn’t alone in her lack of knowledge about kyphosis. Although many people have seen older adults who are bent forward at their upper back, few people know the term for the condition or what causes it.
Kyphosis is characterized by the upper part of the back becoming extremely rounded. It’s a condition that can happen at any age, but it most commonly occurs in older people, especially women. Kyphosis affects the spine itself.
The spine is comprised of three sections that create three natural curves in the spine. The normal curves in the spine are essential for good balance and allow a person to stand upright. When any of these curves is thrown out of shape, it changes posture.
Although kyphosis is sometimes mild and causes no symptoms or problems, it can be severe and lead to complications like:
Trouble Breathing: When kyphosis is severe, it can put pressure on the lungs, making it difficult to move air in and out.
Physical Limitations: Weak back muscles and the curve of the spine can make walking hard. It can also make looking up and driving impossible.
Poor Body Image: While some people may not be bothered by the change in their body’s appearance, for some it can affect self-esteem. In older people, it may make them unwilling to go out and lead to social isolation.
Causes of Kyphosis
Normally, vertebrae are cylindrical in shape. When an older adult develops kyphosis, the vertebrae become wedge-shaped.
The change in shape can be caused by:
Fractures: Cracks and breaks in the vertebrae can change the way they are shaped.
Osteoporosis: Thin bones can result in compression fractures in the spine.
Disk Degeneration: The soft discs between vertebrae can dry out or get smaller with age.
Cancer: Cancer that affects the spine and its treatment can weaken the bones, leading to compression fractures.
If your aging relative has kyphosis, they may need assistance with many regular activities. Home care can help them to walk safely from place to place. A home care provider can also offer transportation if kyphosis makes driving impossible. Home care providers can also help with household tasks that might be difficult because of altered posture, like cooking and cleaning.