Arthritis is a constant source of pain for millions of our senior loved ones, with impacts to their lives going beyond the pain.
Seniors’ arthritis can result in self-limiting actions, causing them to stop doing the things they love doing.
It can even interfere with or take away their independence.
Did you know that arthritis is the most common cause of disability? It can keep your senior from walking, climbing stairs, bending, lifting, carrying, reaching and even impair their ability to dress and care for themselves.
Symptoms include pain, stiffness and swelling in joints. Some forms of arthritis, such as lupus, can negatively affect the organs.
It has been reported that those people who suffer from arthritis have a significantly lower quality of life than those without arthritis. Many of those with arthritis (18%) have been reported to have major depression.
Joint replacements of all kinds – knees, hips, shoulder, and other joints were performed primarily to alleviate the pain of arthritis.
How Common Is Arthritis?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that 52.5 million adults have some form of arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, gout, lupus or fibromyalgia.
Those CDC statistics for this painful diagnosis are disquieting. It seems that arthritis in one form or another affects many of our senior loved ones.
- One in five adults has arthritis, with the most common form being osteoarthritis.
- 5 million adults are estimated to have rheumatoid arthritis.
- A higher percentage of women than men are diagnosed with arthritis (26% vs 19%).
- 66% of adults diagnosed arthritis are overweight or obese.
- Weight loss of as little as 11 pounds reduces the risk of developing knee osteoarthritis among women by 50%.
- Among older adults with knee osteoarthritis, engaging in moderate physical activity at least 3 times a week can reduce the risk of arthritis-related disability by 47%.
- Arthritis and other rheumatic conditions are the most common cause of disability among U.S. adults and have been for the past 15 years.
- Adults with arthritis report two to four times as many unhealthy days in the past month than those without arthritis.
All of this probably makes you wish you could do something about it.
Arthritis Prevention & Control
There are some things that our senior loved ones can do in an effort to prevent developing arthritis and, if it is diagnosed, to manage it to remain healthy and independent as they age.
- To prevent developing arthritis seniors should maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight puts undue strain on joints which can lead to arthritis, pain, need for joint replacement and limited mobility.
- Avoid injuries including falls. Falls can be damaging to joints. Your senior can try to prevent falls with injuries by staying physically active, participating in strength exercises and improving their balance.
- Become and stay physically active. Moving your body can decrease the pain of arthritis, improve physical function and thereby quality of life. Staying flexible and strengthening muscles will help with arthritis and range of motion in the joints.
- Learn about your senior’s type of arthritis and ways to manage it. When it is kept in control and you both learn to control the pain and reduce the impact it has on mobility, you will be able to improve their well-being.
- Discuss an appropriate treatment plan with your senior’s doctor. Ask them for referrals to exercise programs to remain active, self-management programs to control the condition and anti-inflammatory strategies to reduce pain and improve functional status.
- Nutritional interventions may or may not help, as the jury is still out on much of the research to show cause and effect. Some tips are thought to provide some help and, since they are not dangerous, might be worth a try for your senior. Anti-inflammatory diet foods may help with symptoms (see diet information below.) Adequate amounts of Vitamin D in the diet can help, some people may need a supplement in order to achieve adequacy.
- Supplements are sold widely with claims to reduce arthritis pain although few results have been proven. Some people have found that glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate can decrease their pain especially of osteoarthritis of the knee and these have some evidence to support their use. Unfortunately, research into osteoarthritis of other joints has not shown an advantage to these supplements over a placebo. Be aware that use of chondroitin can interact with anticoagulant medications like Coumadin.
Anti-Inflammatory Diet Tips
Despite the claims, there is no one food that will stop arthritis pain and no diet that will cure this disease. There are, however, small changes that your senior can make in the foods they select that could have an anti-inflammatory benefit that reduces their pain.
Many adults who limit certain types of foods like those that are processed in favor of fresher foods report feeling better.
- Omega 3 fatty acids can help reduce inflammation and prevent your immune system from fighting against this form of fat. Foods that are considered good sources of omega 3 fatty acids are salmon, sardines, mackerel, herring, tuna, nuts such as walnuts, flaxseed oil, and green leafy vegetables (benefits in that order).
- Avoid foods that can contribute to inflammation such as sugar sweetened beverages like soda, Trans fat, unhealthy fats like lard, refined carbohydrates (white bread, baked goods) and processed meat (hot dogs, sausage). Avoid processed foods.
- Choose foods that might reduce inflammation, such as tomatoes, berries (such as blueberries and strawberries), cherries, fatty fish (salmon, tuna, sardines). Antioxidants will support your senior’s immune system and help with inflammation.
- Choose healthy foods such as found in the Mediterranean diet (fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grain, beans, fish, and healthy oils). Eat 3-4 ounces of fish twice a week. Eat colorful fruits and vegetables everyday up to 2 cups of fruit and 2 cups of vegetables. Choose 1.5 ounces of nuts a day (a handful).
- Get enough fiber in their food to help their immune system prevent inflammation.
- Eating a more healthy diet, with appropriate portion sizes, will help with weight loss that will be beneficial to the joints.
- Don’t fall for food myths when it comes to arthritis, such as drinking cider vinegar, avoiding dairy or coffee. These have not been proven to be accurate, no matter how many times we hear them or how many people say to do it. Limiting dairy can cause deficiencies in key nutrients for bone health. Curcumin (turmeric) has been used by many to reduce inflammation but the jury is still out on this spice.
- If a particular food seems to aggravate your senior’s arthritis symptoms, have them avoid it. Be careful that nutrients in that food are made up in other food choices.
Other Actions Against Arthritis
For many adults with arthritis, medications can be successful at treating their symptoms. If your senior has been prescribed medications, you can help them understand the importance of taking them properly.
As a family caregiver, you can encourage your senior to take the actions necessary to prevent worsening of their arthritis so they don’t allow it to limit their independence.
The Arthritis Foundation states that interventions for preventing the effects of arthritis actually only reach 1% of those who could benefit from them. Prevention is limited but arthritis symptoms can be managed with an effective treatment plan.
Don’t let your senior be one of the arthritis statistics when steps to improve their health are available!