Some say that feeling stiff and having joint pain is an inevitable part of growing older, but this is not entirely true. These experiences can transition from aches pains that come and go with the weather to much more serious and even crippling conditions all under the umbrella of arthritis.
Arthritis is not a single disease; it is an informal way of referring to joint pain or joint disease, according to the Arthritis Foundation. In all, there are more than 100 types of arthritis and related conditions. Half of all people age 65 and older have been diagnosed with arthritis—most often osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, or gout. May is recognized annually as National Arthritis Awareness Month.
By new estimates, arthritis impacts more than 92.1 million adults in the U.S., making it the number one cause of disability in the country. This amounts to an estimated one in three people aged 18-64. It is the leading cause of disability among U.S. adults.
Arthritis and other rheumatic conditions account for 172 million work days lost annually. Total medical costs and earning losses due to arthritis were $304 billion, or about 1 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product in 2013.
The first steps for you or your loved one to combat the pain is understanding the condition and knowing that with proper care and lifestyle changes, pain associated with arthritis may be greatly reduced.
Some forms of arthritis are related to lifestyle and genetics, while others are classified as autoimmune disorders. The most common types of arthritis are osteoarthritis (OA), rheumatoid arthritis (RA), infectious arthritis, and gout.
Osteoarthritis is the most common type among seniors. It is often related to age, or to an injury, as it “wears and tears” on the joints. It affects the hands, hips and knees and it gets worse over time. At its worst, OA can disable a person, leaving them unable to work. Many people with OA say the pain, fatigue, disfigurement and mobility limitations of the disease lead to social isolation.
Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)
Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is a serious autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system attacks healthy cells, damaging the joint tissue and leading to chronic pain. It is most common in women over age 60. RA most commonly affects the joints of the hands, feet, wrists, elbows, knees and ankles, and is usually symmetrical. Because RA can also affect body systems, such as the cardiovascular or respiratory system, it is called a systemic disease, meaning “entire body.” One-fourth to one-half of all patients with RA become unable to work within 10 to 20 years of follow-up after diagnosis, according to a 2010 study.
Gout is an extremely painful form of metabolic inflammatory arthritis. Metabolic diseases occur when the body does not break down food (chemicals) in a normal way to produce energy on a cellular level, specifically how the body breaks down purines into uric acid.
Gout often starts in the big toe and is caused by too much uric acid buildup in the body developing into painful, needle-like crystals. It has been directly linked to diet and some medications. Sadly, all the things we tend to love to eat like red meat, shellfish and beer, yes, beer, are all high in purines.
Infectious arthritis is an infection that has spread from one part of the body and settles into a specific joint.
All forms of arthritis attack joint tissue and bones, and all share many of the same symptoms in seniors, including lasting joint pain, joint swelling and stiffness, tenderness or pain when touching the joint, problems using or moving a joint, and warmth and redness in the skin over the joint.
While doctors are able to treat symptoms, it is also up to us to do what we can to limit the condition by staying healthy, which includes eating right, exercising, and reducing stress. Proper treatment and support from a doctor or physical therapist is important, as is being proactive about our personal lifestyle habits.
Currently there is no cure for any of the more than 100 types of arthritis; however, the pain doesn’t need to interfere with your quality of life.
Along with taking the correct medication, exercise is an essential part of living with any form of arthritis. Focus on flexibility, low-impact aerobic activities, and strength exercises. As always, talk to your physician before beginning any form of exercise.
Dietary changes can also help in alleviating pain. Add foods rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties such as fruits, vegetables and fatty fish to your diet. Limit consumption of foods that increase inflammation, like sugars, processed meats, and refined flour.
As the disease advances, it is up to the patients and their caregivers to manage the disease, including getting assistance with activities of daily living when they become unmanageable or unsafe. In-home care is a solution that can keep any patient of any age safe and as healthy as possible at home.