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I Am Shrinking and So Are You

Many people get shorter as they age. This writer describes how she copes.

By Patricia Corrigan

Standing on the edge of the continent in San Francisco, Calif., I am enveloped by the fog. It has time for only a quick embrace, and then rushes off to nourish the coastal redwoods, which grow 300 feet and higher.

Will standing in the fog make me taller?

I’m shrinking. Not in mind or spirit, but the body has taken a hit. For decades, I was 5 feet, 4½ inches tall. (During these same decades, I told everyone in my water aerobics class that I was 5 feet, 10 inches, and they bought it because I was loud.)

Now I’m barely 5 feet, 3 inches.

At one doctor’s office, my height was recorded as just under that. I fluffed up my hair, but a second reading was the same. I protested to the doc — a short man — and he changed my chart to show 5 feet, 3 inches. We are friends for life.

Why am I shorter?

Allegedly, chemo some 20 years ago took some of my height. Now I’m shrinking because of changes in my bones, specifically in my spine. (Diagnostic tip: My doc says if you lean on the grocery cart to relieve pressure in your back when you shop, you likely have spinal stenosis.)

It’s Not Just Me

Don’t feel sorry for me. You’re shrinking too.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) reports, “The tendency to become shorter occurs among all races and both sexes. People typically lose about 0.4 inches every 10 years after age 40. Height loss is even more rapid after age 70. You may lose a total of 1 to 3 inches in height as you age.“

What can we do about it?

The NIH counsels: “You can help minimize loss of height by following a healthy diet, staying physically active, and preventing and treating bone loss (osteoporosis).”

What you can’t change is this: Evolution has not yet adjusted to our lengthened lifespan — so our parts wear out. And yes, you can get a variety of replacement parts at a hospital near you or have surgery on parts that can’t be replaced in the hope of feeling better as you age.

Here’s a shocker: In 1900, the average lifespan for a woman was 48; it was 46 for a man. By 1950, the average lifespan was 71 for a woman and 65 for a man. Today, the average American makes it almost to 78.

If You’re 65, Head for 85

The longer you live, it seems, the older you may get. No less an authority than the Social Security Administration (and they pay us, so they should know) reports this: “A man reaching age 65 today can expect to live, on average, until age 84.3. A woman turning age 65 today can expect to live, on average, until age 86.6.”

The typical diseases of aging — degenerative disc disorder, spinal stenosis and bulging discs — all are “manageable,” at least when they are at the mild or moderate stages. Here are my management strategies:

  • using trekking poles when I walk
  • doing physical therapy exercises
  • scheduling acupuncture appointments
  • walking in a warm-water pool

Plus, I’m always working to find that all-important balance between too much movement and not enough.

That’s tricky, but worth the effort, because if I can improve my mobility, I can go to Disneyland, a lifelong dream since I first saw the place advertised on The Mickey Mouse Club. Bonus: I can go with a wee boy in tow. (My grandson.)

Dancing with Delusions

That’s not aiming too high.

But how’s this for delusionary thinking? At a physical crisis point a few weeks ago, I indulged in a modest dose of pain pills. Lying on the couch in a mellow mood, watching The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, I so admired the elaborate dancing that I decided to enroll in a Bollywood dance class.

Holding off on that so far.

But I continue to visit the seaside on foggy days.


Patricia Corrigan
Patricia Corrigan is a professional journalist, with decades of experience as a reporter and columnist at a metropolitan daily newspaper, and also a book author. She has written for Next Avenue since February 2015. Read more from Patricia at Read More
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