By Carolyn Susman

Cox News Service

There's a telling episode of "Everybody Loves Raymond" in which Debra measures Ray, only to find that he's shorter than he used to be.

"Five eleven and three quarters," Debra proclaims.

"This can't be!" Ray shrieks. "Black hair, brown eyes, 6 feet tall. Hey, everybody, I'm 6 feet tall!"


But the giraffe used to mark the height of family members says otherwise, and the revelation sends Raymond into a midlife crisis.

The hard truth is that height loss happens as we get older. If you're older than 50, you can expect a loss of at least a half-inch.

Disks that cushion and separate the vertebrae in our spine have a gelatinous material that dries out as we get older, causing us to lose height, explains Dr. Felicia Cosman, clinical director of the National Osteoporosis Foundation.

"There's nothing really that can be done about that," he says. "There are risk factors like being physically inactive and being a smoker, but to some extent, everybody will lose a bit. When you're into (the loss of) 11⁄2; or 2 inches, then it's more likely osteoporosis."

That's the spiel Marty Fleisher got from his doctor when he asked about his own height loss.

At 66, Fleisher is well-muscled, works out three days a week, leads kayak trips for Adventure Times Kayaks and, until two years ago, was climbing 40-foot-high poles to put up equipment for a course he taught.

That active lifestyle didn't stop Father Time from robbing Fleisher of his height.

"I was 5-feet-7, and now I'm around 5-feet-5," he said. "I've lost at least an inch and a half."


He couldn't deny it when he stood next to his wife of 42 years, Elaine.

"Either she was getting taller, or I was getting shorter," he says.

Elaine, who is taking medication for her own height-threatening bone loss, noticed her husband's height loss, too.

"I felt that when I would stand next to him. I wasn't looking at him eye to eye; I was a little higher," she says.

She wasn't bothered by it; she was just concerned that he get checked out by the doctor.

His mother had the bone-threatening disease, osteoporosis, but Fleisher said his doctor didn't think that was his problem.

"He says I'm getting old," Fleisher says with a shrug.

"So I'm getting shorter. So what? I don't expect to become invisible," he jokes. "I won't say it didn't bother me, but not to the point I would do anything about it."


He did have fleeting thoughts of buying cowboy boots or putting lifts in his shoes. And he loves any excuse to wear the motorcycle boots he bought for cruising on his Yamaha Virago.

Men find ways to compensate. And boots appear to be a momentary fix for those on the downside of life.

Take 72-year-old Bob Baruch. He had the same craving for cowboy boots when he noticed he was shorter than he used to be.

"One time, I was trying to be macho and decided to buy cowboy boots. They were the most uncomfortable things," the former technical writer says.

He's lost an inch and a half -- from 5-feet-11 to 5-feet-91⁄2; -- and the cards he has collected throughout the years tell the tale of a shrinking Bob.

1957: 5-11 on his Department of Defense civilian I.D. card.

1967: 5-11 on his Hawaiian driver's license.

1996: 5-10 on his Florida hunting license.


Baruch measures himself when he goes to the doctor, and, like TV's Raymond, he also measures himself with a trusted straight-edged ruler out in the garage.

Final verdict? 5-91⁄2.

; His case is a little different from Fleisher's. Though he's certain that he has been losing height with age, he also has knee problems that have given him a stooped posture.

There was no denying he was losing his physical stature when he noticed that his son, 43-year-old Mike, seemed to be growing.

"I said to him, 'You're getting bigger. Mike, you're growing up!'" he laughs. "I thought it was old age. You know, you see all these people looking through the steering wheel instead of over it."

He hasn't mentioned his shrinkage to his doctor.

"I don't have any real bone problems. I don't think I have osteoporosis," he says. His doctor has never mentioned the possibility.

But Baruch buys pants that have "shrunk 4 inches on the inseam," so he knows he's not imagining this.


"I'm not worried about it. I'm not a very vain person. But there was a picture of a group of guys working on an antique car about four years ago, and I said, 'Damn, I'm the shortest one in the picture.' It's something that's interesting, but I didn't go out and buy elevator shoes."

He isn't concerned that his wife of 52 years, Carolyn, will toss him out.

"I saw my aunt, grandmother and grandfather shrink. I'm shrinking a little bit. Well, I've got my mate. I don't need to look pretty."

He does pop a few calcium-enriched Tums from time to time, and that's all the medication he wants -- unless he starts buying Rogaine for hair loss, which seems to be bothering him more right now than losing a few inches on his frame.

"I'd give up another inch for more hair!"

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