May is recognized annually as National Arthritis Awareness Month. 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 pains that come and go with the weather to much more serious and even crippling forms of the condition. Half of all people age 65 and older have been diagnosed with arthritis—most often osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, or gout.
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. The first steps for you or your senior loved one to combat the pain is understanding your condition and knowing that with proper care and lifestyle changes, this pain associated with arthritis can 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.
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.
Gout is an extremely painful form of inflammatory arthritis and is, unfortunately, common. Gout often starts in the big toe and is caused by too much uric acid buildup in the body. It has been directly linked to diet and some medications.
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.
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.
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.
Know the Facts for National Arthritis Awareness Month
- By new estimates 1 in 3 people age 18-64 have arthritis
- There are more than 100 forms of this crippling disease
- Almost 50% of adults 65 or older reported doctor-diagnosed arthritis