Arthritis is a general term that describes inflammation of one or more joints, often causing pain, stiffness, and difficulty moving. There are many types of arthritis, but the most common are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Symptoms of arthritis often worsen with age.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about half of Americans aged 65 years and older have arthritis. Arthritis is more common in women than men and in certain ethnic and racial groups, such as non-Hispanic whites, American Indian/Alaska Natives, and African Americans.
Common Types of Arthritis in Older Adults
Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease that occurs when the cartilage that cushions the joints wears down over time, leading to pain and stiffness. It is more common in older adults and can affect any joint, but it typically affects the knees, hips, and hands.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that causes joint inflammation, leading to pain, stiffness, and swelling. It can affect people of any age, but it occurs more often in women and usually develops between 30 and 60.
Although risk factors may vary according to the type of arthritis, they may include age, gender, a family history of arthritis, a previous joint injury, and obesity.
Symptoms of Arthritis in Older Adults
The most common symptoms of arthritis involve the joints. Depending on the type of arthritis, symptoms in and around the affected joints may include:
- Pain – can be severe.
- Stiffness and limited range of motion – can make it hard to move the joint or perform certain activities.
- Swelling – can make the joint appear larger than usual.
- Warmth and redness – can be a sign of inflammation.
- Joint deformity – the joint may have bumps or an abnormal shape.
Arthritis can also cause fatigue, especially during periods of active inflammation.
It is important to note that the symptoms of arthritis can vary depending on the type of arthritis and the severity of the condition. Therefore, if an older adult is experiencing any of these symptoms, they should consult their healthcare provider for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.
Arthritis Can Profoundly Limit Daily Activities
Arthritis in older adults can affect daily activities in several ways, depending on the severity and location of the condition, including:
- Mobility. Arthritis can significantly impair mobility, especially for those with affected hips, knees, or feet joints. Even short walks can be challenging while climbing stairs can be extremely painful.
- Fine motor tasks. Stiffness or pain in the fingers, hands, and wrists can make it difficult for older adults to perform tasks that require fine motor skills, such as writing, typing, or buttoning clothes.
- Self-care. Those with arthritis affecting the fingers, shoulders, hips, or knees may struggle with bathing, grooming, and dressing.
- Household tasks. Cooking, cleaning, and laundry can be difficult for those with arthritis, especially if the condition affects the hands, wrists, or back.
- Leisure activities. Pain, stiffness, and fatigue may prevent adults with arthritis from participating in activities they once enjoyed, like taking a walk, playing sports, gardening, or traveling.
Although arthritis can impact daily activities in many ways, older adults should discuss strategies to manage the condition with their doctor. Early diagnosis and a treatment plan are especially critical for those struggling with rheumatoid arthritis.
Precautions Can Improve Life for Adults with Arthritis
No matter their age, the chronic pain and reduced mobility accompanying arthritis can significantly affect a person’s overall quality of life. Precautionary steps can help older adults with arthritis maintain their independence, improve their quality of life, and prevent further complications associated with the condition.
Here are some actions older adults can take to manage arthritis:
- Prevent Falls. Arthritis can cause pain, stiffness, joint damage, muscle weakness, and nerve damage, all of which can affect the balance and coordination of older adults. Some medications can also affect balance. When balance and coordination are compromised, the person is more prone to falls, which can cause serious injuries. Take precautions like working with a physical therapist on fall prevention exercises and strategies, using assistive devices if needed, and wearing proper footwear to reduce the risk of falls.
- Manage Pain. Arthritis can cause chronic pain, leading to depression, anxiety, and sleep disturbances. Precautions such as using the medication as prescribed, using hot and cold therapy, and staying physically active can help manage the pain.
- Improve Mobility. Arthritis can limit the range of motion of joints, making it difficult for older adults to perform daily activities. Precautions such as engaging in physical therapy, maintaining a healthy weight, and using assistive devices can improve mobility.
- Prevent Joint Damage. Arthritis can cause joint damage that can be irreversible. Precautions such as following a healthy diet, avoiding activities that can cause joint damage, and using assistive devices can prevent further damage.
Consider enrolling in the CDC Chronic Disease Self-management Program to learn how exercise, relaxation, communication, healthy eating, medication management, and managing fatigue can improve life with arthritis.
Lifestyle Changes Can Help You Live Better with Arthritis
Healthy habits can help you live better with arthritis by lifting your mood, reducing pain, improving mobility, and enhancing your quality of life. Here are some examples of lifestyle changes that can be beneficial:
- Regular exercise can help reduce joint pain and stiffness and improve flexibility, balance, and overall physical function. Low-impact exercises such as swimming, walking, and yoga can particularly benefit people with arthritis. Consult with your doctor or physical therapist before starting an exercise program.
- A healthy diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can help reduce inflammation and improve arthritis symptoms. Saturated fat, added sugar, high sodium foods, organ meats, shellfish, processed and red meats, and refined carbs increase inflammation and may worsen arthritis symptoms.
- Excess weight puts additional stress on the joints, worsening arthritis symptoms. Maintaining a healthy weight can reduce joint strain and improve mobility.
- Stress can exacerbate arthritis symptoms, so managing stress through relaxation techniques such as meditation, deep breathing, or yoga can help improve overall well-being.
- Use assistive devices like braces, splints, canes, or walkers to reduce stress on joints, help with balance, and improve mobility.
- Work with your healthcare provider to properly manage medication prescribed to reduce pain and inflammation. Always take medicines as directed and avoid combining them with alcohol or illicit drugs. Both smoking and excessive alcohol can worsen arthritis symptoms.
- Get sufficient rest and sleep to reduce the fatigue often associated with arthritis.
Overall, lifestyle changes can be an effective way to manage arthritis symptoms and improve quality of life. Working with your healthcare provider to develop a personalized plan that addresses your individual needs and goals is essential.
If you are an older adult struggling with debilitating arthritis, contact At Home Harmony. We are experts in helping senior or disabled adults live safely and comfortably in their homes. Our compassionate, expertly trained clinicians and personal care aides can help with daily activities like bathing, dressing, housekeeping chores, medication management, companionship, and medical needs.