According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), nearly 60 million people in the United States have arthritis. So, older adults with questions about arthritis are in good company! Arthritis is a common diagnosis; however, many people are not aware that arthritis is not a single disease. The term arthritis actually refers to joint disease or joint pain; there are more than 100 types of arthritis and related conditions. While arthritis is not a disease of aging, it is most common in older adults.
Seniors with arthritis can continue to live their independent, active lifestyles – an arthritis diagnosis is no reason to slow down or change course! However, the more that is understood about this diagnosis, the easier it is to manage arthritis symptoms, reduce risk factors and even prevent an arthritis diagnosis in the first place.
Understanding the Types of Arthritis
What is the main cause of arthritis? Arthritis develops when the shock-absorbing cartilage cushioning the bone does not function normally. This can be caused by wear and tear of the cartilage over many years or by inflammation in the joint. Some types of arthritis affect the heart, eyes, lungs, kidneys and skin, in addition to the joints. There are four main categories of arthritis, including:
- Osteoarthritis. This type of arthritis affects larger, weight-bearing joints, such as the hips, lower back and knees. The most common form of arthritis, osteoarthritis is sometimes called the “wear and tear” arthritis. It occurs most in the hands, knees and hips.
- Rheumatoid arthritis. With rheumatoid arthritis, swelling of the joints occurs. The disease is symmetrical, meaning symptoms on one side of the body are mirrored on the other side of the body, and the entire body can be affected.
- Psoriatic arthritis. This form of arthritis is an autoimmune disease. With psoriatic arthritis, instead of protecting the body from disease, the immune system turns against the body and attacks itself. This type of arthritis usually begins between ages 30 and 50, but it can start as early as childhood; the skin disease known as psoriasis usually shows up first.
- Gout. This unique form of arthritis traditionally attacks the large joint of the big toe but can also affect other joints like the ankle or knee.
It is possible for any form of arthritis to cause changes to the joints that are impacted. These changes may be visible (for example, a person with osteoarthritis of the hands may develop knobby finger joints), but more often the effects of arthritis can be seen only on X-rays.
Understanding the early signs of arthritis, the risk factors for the disease and how to reduce risk factors can help older adults stay on a healthy path forward.
Recognizing Arthritis Symptoms
- Reduced range of motion
- Morning stiffness in and around specific joints lasting at least one hour
- Swelling, pain and stiffness in one or multiple joints
- Stiffness and pain that worsens with inactivity and improves with physical activity
- In some cases, fatigue, anemia and weight loss
Many of the early signs of arthritis mimic some typical signs of aging, and others can closely mirror symptoms of other chronic conditions. Doctors usually diagnose arthritis using the patient’s medical history, physical examination and blood tests. Scans may be done to check for joint inflammation and damage; these can help tell the difference between types of arthritis and can be used to monitor how the condition may progress over time. Diagnosing the specific type of arthritis a person has can help the doctor determine the best treatment and management plan.
Is It Possible to Prevent Arthritis?
So, is it possible to prevent arthritis? While there is some evidence that suggests a family history of arthritis, specifically rheumatoid arthritis, can increase risk, it is largely believed that genes play a very small role in the condition. And, while there is no guaranteed way to prevent developing arthritis, there are ways to reduce the risk or delay the potential onset of certain forms of arthritis. Here are a few ideas for how to prevent arthritis:
- Maintain a healthy weight. Extra weight puts additional pressure on the joints and can cause damage.
- Avoid injury. Take precautions during physical activities and reduce fall risks.
- Quit smoking. Smoking reduces the quality of overall health, making anyone who smokes at greater risk for a variety of diseases.
- Eat a healthy diet. A diet rich in nutrients will benefit the body in many ways. While there is no “arthritis prevention diet,” some studies have found that a diet high in fiber helps reduce levels of C-reactive protein (CRP) in the blood, a marker of inflammation associated with rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory forms of arthritis. Good sources of dietary fiber include legumes and whole grains, such as oatmeal, brown rice, beans and barley.
- Attend all preventative care appointments and checkups with health care providers.
- Stretch muscles. Regular stretching helps to maintain flexibility and balance, which both support joint health.
- Exercise. There are lots of ways for older adults to remain active! For seniors who live in senior living communities, programs such as balance training, wellness programs, daily recreational activities and exercise groups are great ways to keep moving and stay social!
Quality of Life With Arthritis
Seniors with any form of arthritis can live full, happy, engaged lifestyles with the quality of life they want for their retirement years. There is no reason for arthritis to get anyone down! Once there is a diagnosis of arthritis, there may be some daily adjustments to help achieve optimal overall health and to prevent the disease from worsening. Here are some tips for maintaining a high quality of life with arthritis:
- Don’t stand still. Avoid holding one position for too long. Staying in one position too long can put stress on the joints and may cause pain or discomfort.
- Ask for help when needed. For people with arthritis, or really anyone at all, it lightens the load to accept help when needed!
- Plan ahead. One of the secrets to living happily with arthritis, or any chronic condition, is to plan ahead. Plan a route with considerations for wear and tear on the joints if going for a walk or a long outing, make accommodations for rest when needed in the daily schedule and plan ahead for comfort and safety!
- Protect joints. Joint injuries can worsen arthritis. For exercise, choose activities that are easy on the joints, like walking, bicycling and swimming. Low-impact activities have a low risk of injury and do not twist or put too much stress on the joints. Learn more about how to exercise safely with arthritis.
- Build strength. Even gentle exercise can strengthen the muscles around an arthritic joint. For example, straight leg raises from a lying down or sitting position are a simple exercise most seniors can do to strengthen the muscles around their knee.
- Reduce stress. By reducing stress and finding positive ways to cope when stress does occur, seniors can reduce arthritis pain, feel healthier and deal better with the extra demands of living with arthritis.
- Try adaptive aids. There are many daily living aids that can support seniors living with arthritis. For example, appliances, such as electric can openers, food processors and mandolins for slicing can make cooking much easier. There are also reachers – long-handled tools with a gripping mechanism – that can retrieve items stored high or low without reaching or bending. And built-up handles and grips make utensils easier to grasp, while putting less stress on finger joints.
About Tutera Senior Living & Health Care
Tutera Senior Living & Health Care supports the unique journey of every resident. Beginning with each resident’s YOUNITE story, the entire team works to get to know each resident on a personal level. At all our communities, ranging from independent living to long-term care, the YOUNITE story is the basis for building the best possible experience for each resident. Each YOUNITE story captures the life history of the resident, including their daily routines, friends, family, food preferences, hobbies, special moments and interests. This level of understanding allows the Tutera team to create a personal care plan and life enrichment program for the resident, while connecting that resident with team members dedicated to meeting their needs.
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