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Arthritis: Complications and Care

Aging brings about many changes in the body that can often lead to chronic illness. One of the most common is arthritis, which half of adults 65 and older are affected by. Along with pain, arthritis can cause struggles with activities of daily living (ADLs). Seniors with arthritis may have trouble buttoning a shirt, opening a jar, or reaching for an object on a high shelf. Just walking around the house can be cumbersome for those with arthritis in the knees and hips. Around 18 percent of disabilities are caused by some form of arthritis, which makes it the most common cause of disability in the US, according to Medical News Today.

Arthritis is a technical term for “joint inflammation” and describes over 100 different conditions. Most types of arthritis are chronic, or long-lasting and without cure. Arthritis can affect any joint in the body, and often brings on more side effects than just painful, stiff joints. Many types of arthritis cause noticeable changes that can be seen as well as felt, like redness and swelling. The three most common types of arthritis in seniors are osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and gout.

The Most Common Types in Seniors

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis in older adults.  It most often affects large, weight-bearing bones like knees and hips, but can also affect the hands, neck, and lower back. Osteoarthritis causes cartilage in the joints to wear away, making bones rub together. This produces pain when bending, walking, stooping, and sleeping. Stiffness of joints is another side effect. Osteoarthritis can be hereditary, but it is mostly caused by aging. It commonly leads to disability as it progresses.

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune illness in which the body attacks the lining of a joint as if it were trying to protect the body, which causes inflammation. Side effects include swelling, pain, and stiffness for hours. This type of arthritis can affect people of any age, women especially. Rheumatoid arthritis can affect any joint in the body. It is not limited to just bones– it also attacks organs like the heart and lungs. People with rheumatoid arthritis often suffer from fever and malaise.

Gout is one of the most painful forms of arthritis. It occurs when crystals of uric acid form in the joint spaces. The big toe is the most common appendage effected, but the ankles, knees, elbows, and wrists can also be trouble areas. Gout often occurs similarly to an allergic reaction, and can follow eating certain foods, like shellfish. Swelling, pain, redness, and stiffness are the most common side effects. Taking certain medications, consuming alcohol, and being overweight will often make gout worse.

Arthritis Care

While arthritis cannot be cured, seniors can manage their symptoms by creating a lifestyle that includes plenty of rest, a healthy diet, exercise, and joint protection. The prevalence of arthritis increases with body mass index (BMI), making overweight seniors more prone to developing it. A healthy diet and exercise will help control weight and relieve stress on the joints. Range-of-motion exercises like yoga or dancing can relieve stiffness. Strength training builds muscle to protect joints, while aerobic exercise reduces swelling. Medication can help alleviate pain and other symptoms, and wearing special shoes or using a cane will make it easier to move around.

The best way for seniors with arthritis to protect their joints is to reduce stress on them in daily life. An in-home caregiver can eliminate much of the stress by assisting a senior with ADLs and ambulation. Having someone there to help with getting dressed, walking to and from the bathroom, or cooking a meal will provide ample opportunity for a senior to rest and complete activities that may often be neglected due to the pain of arthritis.

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