As temperatures begin to drop this season, the millions of seniors with arthritis will most likely experience an increase in pain, swelling and stiffness of the joints. Nearly half of those over 65 have arthritis. While there is no cure, seniors who suffer from arthritis can manage their symptoms with the following tips.
While the symptoms of arthritis may make exercise seem impossible, it’s probably the best form of medicine, said Neil Roth, M.D., an orthopedic and sports medicine specialist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York. “It is a catch 22, because arthritis pain can prevent a person from exercising, but it is actually one of the most beneficial ways to alleviate arthritis pain,” he said.
Before beginning an exercise regimen, seniors should first make sure their pain is under control. A doctor can prescribe any pain or anti-inflammatory medications, and also recommend which exercises will be best for your needs. With pain and symptoms under control, seniors should be able to do most types of exercises, and should try to incorporate different types for the best results. It’s important to start slowly and always begin with a warm-up. Range-of-motion exercises like arm circles and toe touches are a good way to loosen up, and a heating pad may help relax the muscles.
For most seniors, especially those with arthritis, low-impact exercises are best. For cardiovascular exercise, try water aerobics, cycling, or the elliptical machine. Tai Chi exercises are a great way to improve balance and flexibility. Weight training is safe too, and will support muscle growth around the affected joints. Of course, seniors should never push themselves too hard. If it’s painful, it’s best to stop and rest. “You should exercise up to a point where you are tired, but it is not good to push through pain,” Roth said.
A soak in warm water will help you relax and stimulate blood flow to stiff muscles and joints. Just don’t make it too hot – anything over 100 degrees can be dangerous, especially for those with heart issues. Adding Espom salts is a great way to increase your magnesium intake, which is essential to bone health. However, only use them occasionally, as an increase in magnesium can stimulate an insulin release, which is dangerous for those with diabetes.
You don’t have to just sit there. In fact, it’s best if you don’t! With joints loosened and muscles relaxed, it’s a great chance to do some gentle stretching. If you can, find a warm water pool for exercise. Multiple studies show that exercising in warm water two to three times every week decreases pain up to 40 percent while increasing function.
Arthritis can make even the simplest tasks seem impossible. Luckily, there are many tools available that can remove the challenge from your everyday routine. Reach extenders will prevent seniors from having to bend down or stretch up for hard-to-reach items. Electric jar openers will twist off stubborn lids with the push of a button. A cane will help relieve the pressure on your joints while standing or walking. A button aid/ zipper pull will make getting dressed less difficult. Doorknob extenders will eliminate the need to twist to open the door.
While there’s no “cure all” diet for arthritis symptoms, a healthy diet is essential to overall health. Especially for those who exercise, getting the right amount of lean protein, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats will encourage muscle growth that helps support the joints. Supplementing vitamins, such as omega-3 fatty acids, will help reduce inflammation and manage symptoms. A healthy diet will also help shed pounds in those who are overweight, relieving pressure on the joints.
The best way for seniors with arthritis to protect their joints is to reduce stress on them in daily life. An in-home caregiver from Amada Senior Care 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. To find an Amada location near you, click here.
Written by Taylor French, Amada contributor.