Resources: Senior Health Issues at Hebrew SeniorLife

What is Hyperkyphosis

Hyperkyphosis, which is thought to affect as many as 40 percent of older adults, causes a bulge on the upper back commonly referred to as a “dowager’s hump” or a “hump back.” This condition is often regarded as an inevitable physical symptom of aging. However, hyperkyphosis can pose serious problems including breathing and digestion difficulty, limitations in mobility, increased risk of falls and fractures, pain and disfigurement.

“Despite the severe impact hyperkyphosis can have on an individual’s health, there are no recognized guidelines for its prevention, treatment or management,” says Lisa Samelson, Ph.D., assistant scientist in the Institute for Aging Research's Musculoskeletal Research Center and assistant professor at Harvard Medical School.

Last fall Dr. Samelson was awarded a grant from the National Institute on Aging to conduct a five-year study to better understand the cause of hyperkyphosis. She explains, “By determining the causes and clinical impact of hyperkyphosis, this study will help bridge this knowledge gap. We can ultimately in the future use the findings from this project to test and develop ways to prevent this condition.”  

Working with the Framingham Heart Study, Dr. Samelson will lead a team of scientists at the Institute for Aging Research, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Boston University School of Medicine to conduct the study of 2,000 men and women between the ages of 50 and 85 and use the results to identify the causes and clinical consequences of hyperkyphosis. During the course of the study, researchers will determine the natural progression of the curvature of the upper spine; the spinal features that contribute to hyperkyphosis such as intervertebral disc narrowing, facet joint osteoarthritis and vertebral fracture; and the effect of hyperkyphosis on a person’s health and quality of life. 

“This grant from the National Institute on Aging allows our musculoskeletal research team to investigate another common and poorly understood condition that significantly impacts quality of life for older adults and burdens our health care system with preventable associated illnesses,” said Lewis A. Lipsitz, M.D., Institute for Aging Research‘s director and senior scientist. “Our researchers will be able to investigate the underlying causes of hyperkyphosis that can ultimately lead to prevention strategies and treatments.” 

Institute for Aging Research Awarded $2.7 Million Grant to Investigate “Dowager’s Hump’’. Study Will Determine Causes and Impact of Hyperkyphosis

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