Kyphosis —”Dowager’s Hump”— Is Predictive of Mortality

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Kyphosis, or Dowager’s Hump, is a common occurrence in elderly females, but it also occurs in males as well. This rounding of the back typically occurs as an after-effect of osteoporosis, which affects 200 million women around the world. Osteoporosis weakens the spine, and the bones can begin to compress. This is true especially after small fractures, which the person may not even be aware of. When this occurs, the back can start to take on that familiar “hump” appearance that kyphosis causes. The main concern here, however, is not the appearance of the person with this condition. It is the risk of early death.

 

Vertebral Fractures Are Dangerous

Many people do not realize the dangers of vertebral fractures, but the fact that they have the nickname the “silent disease” is significant. Even if an elderly woman does not have a history of osteoporosis, but shows a slight curvature in her back, she should seek a medical evaluation right away. This can help to determine the cause and her level of risk for early death.

A study was performed at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA to determine the correlation between kyphosis and early death. In this study, 610 women were followed over a period of 13.5 years. The ages of the women in the study ranged between 67 and 93 years old. The researchers followed the women’s spinal curvatures as well as any vertebral fractures the women had and compared them to where these women were after 13.5 years. The study discovered that the women with larger curvatures and preexisting vertebral fractures were more likely to die prematurely due to a spinal condition. The study helped researchers prove that it was not strictly the vertebral fractures that caused the premature death, but the combination of the fractures and the kyphosis that caused it.

 

Spinal Distortions Harm Overall Health

Chiropractors throughout the world have long been touting the importance of spinal health and the connection between that and a person’s overall health, which seems in line with the findings by the UCLA researchers. When a person’s spine is unhealthy, subluxations, which are spinal distortions, cause the remaining parts of the nervous systems and the associated body parts to react negatively. This means that a person could have a spinal issue that corresponds to a respiratory issue or even a digestive issue.

 

Treatment for Kyphosis

As with most conditions, a doctor’s care can help with kyphosis.  Spinal surgery is the last resort because of the risks involved. Generally, doctors try other more conservative measures, such as braces to help support the spine, certain medications, and specific exercises that help to strengthen and lengthen the spine. If there is an underlying case of osteoporosis causing the issue, there will be treatment for that condition to help reduce the risk of kyphosis. The treatments for osteoporosis usually include Vitamin D or hormone therapy. The key is to provide comfort as well as strength for the patient to build up posture.

 

Caregivers Can Help

How can a family member or caregiver help an elderly person with spinal vertebral fractures or a curvature in the spine? A good beginning point is a full evaluation by a doctor. A doctor can check overall health and determine any complications as a result of the kyphosis. Doctors can also check for any underlying issues pointing to premature death and try to prevent them.

Other ways family members and caregivers can help is by staying in constant contact with the loved one. This includes people in their circle of care that note any changes in posture or range of motion.  A curve in the spine is never normal and to let it go uncared for is not wise. Instead, an elderly person with kyphosis should be under a doctor’s care as soon as possible. This allows issues to be handled promptly. A doctor may not be able to fix the curvature, but he or she can address its causes.

Early death from kyphosis is a strong possibility. However, it does not have to be the reality if kyphosis is approached proactively. Letting a curvature go unaddressed for long periods of time is not wise. However, it is easy to overlook small changes in posture that wind up resulting in pronounced kyphosis. Caregivers ans seniors can stay observant, proactive, and inform the doctor of even small changes in posture. This can alert health professionals to underlying illnesses and conditions while in the early stages.

 

 

Sources

International Osteoporosis Foundation. Facts and Statistics. Retrieved from https://www.iofbonehealth.org/facts-statistics. Accessed on August 26, 2016.

 

Kado, D., Prenovost, K., Crandall, C. (September 4, 2007). Narrative Review: Hyperkyphosis in Older Persons. Abstract. Annals of Internal Medicine, 147(5): 330-338. Retrieved from http://annals.org/article.aspx?articleid=659237. Accessed on  September 1, 2016.

 

Rivero, E. (May 21, 2009). Elderly women with “dowager’s hump” may be at higher risk of earlier death. UCLA Newsroom. Retrieved from http://newsroom.ucla.edu/releases/hyperkyphosis-may-predict-earlier-92475. Accessed on August 26, 2016.

 

University of Maryland Medical Center. Adult Kyphosis. Spine Center. Retrieved from http://umm.edu/programs/spine/health/guides/adult-kyphosis. Accessed on August 26, 2016.

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