Arthritis in Seniors: A Smooth Overview
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Feeling stiff? Experiencing joint pain? Blaming it on getting older?

Some forms of arthritis are related to lifestyle and genetics, while others are related closely to chronic illness and are classified as autoimmune disorders. The good news is that with proper care and lifestyle changes much of the pain associated with arthritis can be reduced or eliminated.

Arthritis Treatment and Exercise for Older Adults

All arthritis attacks joint tissue and bones. They also share many of the myriad of symptoms. Currently, there is no cure for any one type of arthritis. Medically, each of these diseases has its own specific protocol that doctors can prescribe for treatment. Yet, there is research and anecdotal evidence that there is much we can do to that will reduce and even eliminate symptoms.

It comes down to eating a healthy well-balanced diet, exercise, weight loss if one is obese, and getting enough sleep. All require effort and the willingness to change some life-long habits in the interest of feeling better.

It is also important, especially for those who have been living with arthritis for a while to learn the best ways to manage whatever physical limitations they have. Wearing the right shoes, using a cane if necessary, or getting some help from a physical therapist with how to properly align the body and stretch to increase or maintain mobility, these are all important details to evaluate.

Best Exercises for Seniors with Arthritis

When it comes to exercise, do what you like. You may have to experiment a bit, but once to do something that you enjoy and feel that it is helpful, you will more likely stick with it.

As with any chronic condition, if you have arthritis be sure to discuss your exercise plan with your doctor. It is important to take into account any injuries, balance issues, and range limitations that you might be experiencing. The good news is that you can, with time and patience, greatly reduce pain and increase flexibility and strength.

Assuming your doctor hasn’t said any specific type of exercise is off-limits, you may want to explore these options:

  1. Swimming. Swim, doing water aerobics, or just walk in the pool! Being in the pool helps improve your cardiovascular fitness as well as strengthen your muscles. While you get stronger, you alse minimize the stress on your joints and bones.
  2. Yoga. If you are new to yoga, find a beginner’s class with a teacher who knows that you have arthritis. They will be able to guide into asanas (positions) that take into consideration your limitations. When doing yoga, just keep your eyes on your own mat and be very gentle with each movement. With patience and time, you will be surprised by the benefits that this practice will bring your way. You can find many classes online!
  3. Resistance band workouts. These are beginner-friendly stretching tools that are perfect for working out at the gym or at home. Working with bands can help you challenge your muscles in ways you might not be able to otherwise. Benefits of learning to work with bands include strengthening the back, improving posture, and opening up the flexibility of the hip joints and shoulders.
  4. Walking. It is the most natural and for many the easiest way to begin an exercise routine. Just put on your most comfortable shoes and go for it! As with every form of exercise, begin where you are. You may begin with a fifteen-minute walk around the block twice and call it a gold star day. The point is to do it again tomorrow and the next day. Slowly building up your distance and time spent outdoors. It works on a cardiovascular level, strengthens bones, can support increased flexibility, and general well-being.

Exercise in some form is really important, especially when one suffers from a chronic condition. With the proper treatment and support from a doctor, one is able to begin to do some form of exercise that will fortify the body and help it through a flare. If you’re looking for other ideas, consider exercises that incorporate the following benefits:

  • Range of motion and flexibility like dance or tai chi
  • Aerobic and endurance exercise classes
  • Strength exercises like lifting some weights or isometric exercise

Activities to do with a Loved One with Arthritis

There are very few boundaries when it comes to activities to do with a loved one who suffers from arthritis. There might be a few accommodations that need to be made to ensure that the activity is as enjoyable as can be but other than that the only limit here is imagination. It is wise to take into account a person’s physical limitations. Here are just a few ideas to get you going:

  1. Exercise. Attend a yoga class or a Tai Chi class together. Doing some sort of physical exercise with another is mutually supportive and can help alleviate arthritic pain.
  2. Gardening. Whether you are tending planters on a terrace or have an actual garden, there is always something that needs to be done to maintain and care for what it is that is growing.
  3. Cooking. Getting together with your loved one and preparing a meal together can be one of the sweetest things to do. Prepping food and chopping things is often difficult when one has joint pain in the hands. Offer to be the sous chef and prep all the ingredients. Make enough so you can freeze the extra and after it’s all done, sit down to a lovely meal together.

Thoughtful Gifts for Seniors with Arthritis

There is always an occasion to give a gift to someone you care about. While it can be a bit of a sensitive issue to give a loved one a gift that speaks to their arthritis, there are some good gifts to give that are practical, helpful, and make day to day activities easier. If you’re looking to gift a loved one something useful, try the following:

  1. Automatic jar opener. Who has never struggled with a jar lid? Imagine arthritic hands not able to open that great jar of apricot preserves! Gifting a jar opener might provide your loved one a little more independence and the kind of breakfast they want. Consider throwing in a jar or three of their favorite preserves!
  2. Adjustable folding cane. These can be great to have in the car trunk and prove itself when that walk is a little too long, or there are stairs without handrails, and a little extra support is needed. They are discrete and useful for one who doesn’t necessarily need a cane all the time.
  3. Touch-on table lamp. A great gift for anyone! Sometimes that light switch on your reading lamp is just out of easy reach, and once reached difficult to maneuver. Just touching the base turns these lamps on and when you’re ready off. Obviously a brilliant help for someone with dexterity issues.
  4. Ergonomic pens, chairs, and supports of all kinds. Ergonomic gadgets of all kinds exist. Chances are you can find an ergonomic design for any household tool, kitchen gadget, piece of furniture that you could possibly imagine. If your loved one with arthritis has a need for a gadget, consider the ergonomic version first.

What Type of Arthritis is Most Common in the Elderly?

There are several types of arthritis that affect all ages, they include:

  • Osteoarthritis
  • Gout
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis, and Lupus

Let’s briefly outline each type:

Osteoarthritis (OA)

This is the most common form of arthritis among seniors. Some refer to it as “wear and tear” arthritis and think of it as inevitable for joints to break down over time. It mostly occurs in the knees, hips, and hands.

With OA, the cartilage begins to break down and the underlying bone begins to change. These changes worsen over time. OA can cause one to feel pain, stiffness, and swelling. At its worst, some people are disabled and no longer able to work.

The risk of developing OA increases with age and women experience OA more than men do. Obesity puts a lot of stress on joints and can increase the risk of developing OA.

The main symptoms of OA are:

  • Stiffness
  • Pain or aching
  • Decreased flexibility
  • Swelling of joints

Osteoarthritis relief: Medications are available to provide pain relief from OA. Your doctor may give you a shot in an affected joint to reduce the pain. Some people decide to have surgery to replace joints damaged by OA.

Gout

Gout is a very painful form of inflammatory arthritis and is fairly common. It usually affects one joint, predominantly the big toe. Initially when one experiences symptoms, known as flares, it can start suddenly and last for days or weeks. Often a flare is followed by remission, which can last for weeks, months, or years. It can stay in one joint or affect other joints such as other toe joints, the ankle, or the knee.

Symptoms of gout include:

  • Pain, usually intense
  • Swelling
  • Redness
  • Heat

Those most likely to experience gout are obese men with certain health conditions which include:

  • Hypertension
  • Diabetes
  • Poor kidney function
  • Metabolic syndrome

Gout relief: There is no cure for gout. But it is known to be caused by a condition called hyperuricemia. This is a condition where there is too much uric acid in the body. This is often associated with diet. Many believe that with changes to one’s diet and activity the effects of gout can be reduced or even eliminated. While there is no cure for gout, it can be effectively managed with medications and health management strategies.

Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)

RA is a serious autoimmune disease, which means that your immune system attacks healthy cells in your body, causing inflammation in the affected parts of the body. It usually attacks several joints at the same time. Most commonly it affects the hands, wrists, and knees. RA causes damage to the joint tissue that can result in chronic pain.

Lupus is also an autoimmune disease that can appear to be RA. They share many of the exact same symptoms. Similarly, it affects the immune system and can cause severe joint and tissue pain. Lupus differs in that it can affect any organ of the body. It is important to work closely with a rheumatologist when getting treatment and making sure that a clear diagnosis is made.

Like OA, RA can flare up and with the proper care, calm down and go into remission.

Symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis include:

  • Pain and stiffness in more than one joint
  • Tenderness and swelling in more than one joint
  • The same symptoms on both sides of the body, such as in both hands
  • Weight loss and fatigue
  • Fever

While RA can be diagnosed at any age, it mostly occurs in women who are over the age of 60. Also, people born with specific genes are more likely to develop RA. Other risk factors include:

  • Smoking and early exposure to smokers
  • Obesity
  • Women who haven’t breastfed

Rheumatoid arthritis relief: There are several options that can be used to treat RA. Medications can be prescribed to manage and relieve pain and control inflammation. There are also anti-rheumatic drugs that can slow the damage that this disease causes.

Given that RA is an autoimmune disease, there is no cure. It is a disease that can be managed and in some cases maintain years and years of remission. But it is necessary to monitor the disease and work on diet, exercise, and sleep. With serious lifestyle changes, it has been shown that people can reduce the pain and severity associated with flares.

The good news is that there are many ways to help reduce the severity of flares and chronic pain. It is important to consider all the aspects of treating arthritis. Proper treatment and support from a doctor or physical therapist are as indispensable as being proactive in changing our personal habits. Exercise and diet can help fortify and strengthen the body. It is clear that research is showing that successful treatment of arthritis requires a holistic care approach.

Resources

Arthritis (CDC)

Senior Arthritis: Symptoms & Care

Management of chronic arthritis pain in the elderly.

About the Author(s)

As a Volunteer Caregiver to the Zen Hospice Project and a Course Manager at the CareGivers Project, Audrey Meinertzhagen is passionate about improving the standards of care for older adults and educating caregivers on the principles of mindfulness and self-care.

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