I am the director of a fairly large and well-attended senior citizen center. One of the members of our board of directors in a gerontologist specializing in the care of older adults. He suggested we hold a screening clinic to help identify seniors who have scoliosis. We are investigating the idea. What can you tell me about this problem? I need more information before presenting it to the membership at large for a vote.

You may find our pamphlet on adult degenerative scoliosis (Patient Guide to Adult Degenerative Scoliosis) a helpful tool in educating yourself and your seniors. By definition, <iscoliosis is an abnormal or exaggerated> curve of the spine when observed either from the side or from the front or back.

Adult degenerative scoliosis is different from the type of scoliosis that occurs in teenagers. Adult degenerative scoliosis occurs after the spine has stopped growing and results from wear and tear of the spine. The condition most often affects the lumbar spine.

In adult degenerative scoliosis, the spine loses its structural stability and becomes unbalanced. This imbalance of the spine causes changes in the way the forces of the spine are directed. The larger the scoliotic curve becomes, the faster these changes cause degeneration of the spine. This creates a vicious cycle where increasing deformity causes more imbalance, that in turn causes more deformity. While this process occurs very slowly, it usually continues to slowly progress until something is done to restore the balance in the spine.

Degenerative scoliosis is more common the older we get. As our population ages, adult scoliosis will be even more common. It will be an increasing source of deformity, pain, and disability. It is estimated that 35 per cent of older adults have scoliosis. This would represent slightly more than one-third of your group. Early detection and treatment can help prevent disease progression. A medical examination with X-rays is usually the most reliable method of diagnosis.