Aging in Place with Arthritis

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Arthritis is a category of conditions marked by severe pain and joint deterioration. When seniors refer to arthritis, they usually mean joint pain or joint disease – along with stiffness, swelling, and compromised range of motion. Some types of arthritis also affect the heart, eyes, lungs, kidneys and skin as well.

But not everyone who lives with arthritis pain takes steps to address it. Most people know to monitor their diabetes, heart disease, and high cholesterol. But when it comes to chronic pain, some people overlook the issue for some time. This can affect their mobility and quality of life.

Understanding the challenges of arthritis and working around them can help you live comfortably and happily for years to come.

Types of Age-Related Arthritis

Different kinds of arthritis come with different challenges. Osteoarthritis (OA), the most common type that affects senior citizens, occurs when the cartilage or cushion between joints breaks down. This can take its toll on the hands, hips, knees, neck, and lower back.

Approximately 30% of people with psoriasis develop a form of inflammatory arthritis called psoriatic arthritis.

Other people have rheumatoid arthritis (RA), an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the joints. The body’s own enzymes break down the joint lining and increase inflammation. Individuals with RA also experience fever, fatigue, anemia and other internal side effects.

Healthy Joint
Osteoarthritis Cartilage or cushion between joints breaks down.
Rheumatoid Arthritis The body’s own enzymes break down the joint lining and increase inflammation.

Experts estimate that approximately 30% of people with psoriasis (a skin condition involving crumbling nails and scaly rashes) develop a form of inflammatory arthritis called psoriatic arthritis. However, OA and RA are the arthritis types affecting most elderly and overweight individuals. Inflammation is a common thread in both conditions – and it can be exacerbated by extra fat stores in the body.

No matter what how old you are when you develop arthritis, the aging process complicates how you live on your own with the disease. Arthritis can make a pleasurable bath painful to get in and out of. Stiff fingers can make it a challenge to prepare simple meals, and daily tasks like laundry and taking out garbage can be more of a chore than ever before. And many older adults who want to remain in their homes reconsider how long they can do so.


How You Can Live Better With Arthritis

Living with a chronic condition like arthritis can be challenging. But the good news is that there are many ways to manage the symptoms of this common disease so that you can still enjoy a high quality of life.

If you have arthritis, make sure you surround yourself with a caring team of medical professionals. They can keep you up to date on the latest medical advances, track your progress, and make sure you’re receiving the best treatment.

But finding a good medical team is only half the battle. Seniors with arthritis have more control over how the disease affects their day-to-day experience than they might think. In fact, managing your arthritis involves many of the same steps as maintaining your general health: eating well, exercising, getting plenty of sleep, and cultivating a strong support network.

These steps can help you life comfortably and independently far beyond your diagnosis.

Arthritis Lifestyle Tips

A professional with credentials in CAPS (Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist) or SCEM (Specialty Certification in Environmental Modification) specializes in home adaptations and can help you identify the best modifications for your home. Ask you rheumatologist, general practitioner, or insurance company to refer you to someone. An occupational therapist will ask you about your typical day’s activities and help you consider your priorities and daily logistical issues. Think through the worst problems you experience each day. When are you most vulnerable to pain? This can help you conserve energy for things that matter most in your daily life.

Arthritis and Body Weight

Arthritis isn’t preventable. But taking off extra weight can sometimes help minimize its worst effects. For every excess pound, the force on your knee is increased by four pounds of pressure. With every step you take, the added wear and tear on your joints can lead to chronic pain.

For every excess pound, the force on your knee is increased by four pounds of pressure.

It helps to know that fat is a tissue. As joints perform their regular functions, they create heat. And fat in large numbers can begin to act like an incubator for organs and joints.

Foods that fight Inflammation Try to add foods with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, like fruits, nuts, veggies, and fatty fish, into your diet.
Foods to Avoid Avoid unhealthy foods such as sugars, processed meats and refined carbs such as white bread, which can make inflammation caused by arthritis worse.

Most overweight individuals with arthritis have either osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis. Both OA and RA come from inflammation in the human body’s most-stressed joints. Both cause deterioration, and they both can ultimately require corrective surgery.

senior healthy weight loss

For obese patients, knees and hips are the prime sources of painful inflammation. An obese body develops characteristics that can actually keep the person from losing too much weight. The human brain is hard-wired to go into starvation mode if its fat stores are compromised. This feeling of deprivation undermines any efforts to lose weight. Arthritic joints make exercise harder than ever – particularly if the pain is enough to necessitate a joint replacement.

If you are overweight to any degree, start slow on your weight loss journey. Work with your healthcare team to establish realistic goals. Healthier foods at sensible proportion sizes are key. A pedometer is also a great help. Even though losing a few pounds may not be noticeable to you, every pound loss will help your heart, adjust your metabolism, and take enough stress off your joints to help you feel better.


Staying Healthy With Arthritis

Staying healthy with arthritis requires eating right, exercising, and reducing stress. The chronic joint pain caused by arthritis doesn’t need to interfere with your quality of life. Practicing healthy habits goes a long way towards ensuring you live well despite your arthritis.

If you suffer from stiff or painful joints, getting active may be the last thing you want to do, but exercise can alleviate the symptoms of arthritis. Moving your body can help lubricate joints so they are more flexible, and strengthening the muscles around your joints can reduce the amount of pressure they have to support. Gentle, low-impact activities like walking or swimming can make a big difference.

Diet can also help relieve arthritis pain. Try to add foods with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, like fruits, veggies, and fatty fish, into your diet. Also keep an eye out for foods that increase inflammation, like sugar, processed meats, and refined flour. Excess weight can also put stress on your joints, so make sure your diet helps support a healthy weight.

Arthritis Treatment Tips

The same healthy foods that stave off heart disease and diabetes can also alleviate your arthritis. Vegetables, fruits, fish, beans, and nuts are all good for your body. A fiber-rich diet can have a positive influence on chronic inflammatory joint diseases, leading to stronger bones. Cut out saturated fat and processed foods as much as possible. Watching your diet also protects against heart disease, which has been linked to rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.

Treating Arthritis

Doctors treat osteoarthritis with anti-inflammatory medication or disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs. Physical therapy can help someone with OA relearn good habits. With RA, an anti-inflammatory medication as well as biologic drugs, which target the specific enzymes that cause deterioration without compromising all of the other immune responses.

Anti-Inflammatory Medication Doctors fight arthritis with anti-inflammatory medication, including over-the-counter options such as Ibuprofen and aspirin. Always be sure to discuss the use of these medications with your doctor.
arthritis physical therapy

Be aware, however, that damaged cartilage does not regenerate. In some cases, joint replacement surgery is called for. That’s why it is so important to care for your body from the inside and out.

Home Modifications

Home Modifications For Those Living With Arthritis

Living independently may be a challenge for seniors with arthritis, but luckily there are many modifications that can make it simpler. These adaptations can be particularly helpful in areas like the the kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom.

If you’re an older adult living with arthritic knees, for example, you may want to consider raising the height of seats in your home. This can include your dining room table chairs, arm chairs, and even the seat of your toilet. Raising the chairs will make it easier to move from seated to standing without straining. The same goes for the height of your bed.

You may also want to look into devices that alleviate pressure on the wrist and finger joints. It might save you time and effort to buy a food processor, for example, that can chop or grate your food for you. If you struggle to open jars and cans, consider purchasing an electric can opener or jar opener. Many retailers also sell “fat grip” pens and toothbrushes, which are easier to grasp.

These are only a few examples of ways to accommodate arthritic joints so that seniors can live comfortably. Make sure you determine which tasks present the biggest struggles and then develop a plan going forward.

Home Modification Tips

Place appliances on the counter so you don’t have to bend, stretch, or reach into drawers or cabinets. Consider lighter pots and pans if stoneware feels too heavy for you. Long-handled dustpans and brooms save you from bending over. Electric can and jar openers allow you to turn a container “hands-free.” Arrange items at counter level and use a grabber tool so you won’t need to stretch for them. Store everything you need within easy reach, even if it means having duplicates in several places.

Adapting Your Home

senior woman kitchen

Many people want to spend their retirement years at home. But arthritis may turn your home into an obstacle course. Simple tasks can be gigantic undertakings when moving a limb brings pain. Some people with the condition are no longer going out into their yards. Even the slope of a hill can make a difference on arthritic joints. A single-story home may have obstacles which your friends and family may not realize. While you may not have to negotiate stairs, consider that everyone has at least a few steps to travel from yard to door.

Arthritis Infographics

Help Yourself – and Help Others Help You

The happiest people with arthritis are the ones who are open to change and proactive about carrying it out. Whether this means exercising more, adjusting your diet, or modifying your home or habits, you can live happily and healthfully at home.

arthritis family support

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