Arthritis is a complicated subject, yet a critical one to understand for anyone taking care of senior citizens. Arthritis can cause many different symptoms which manifest themselves in many different ways, and it’s one of the largest diseases which reduce the quality of life that seniors experience.
In this article, we’ll walk through an explanation of arthritis, its causes, and offer a few tips on how to ease arthritis and avoid it in the first place.
What is Arthritis?
Arthritis is a degenerative or autoimmune disease which causes pain and swelling in the joints. Arthritis also causes joint stiffness, tenderness, and muscle pain distinct from the site of the joint. Arthritis is a serious disease that can have many different causes.
Causes of Arthritis
The primary cause of arthritis in senior citizens is wear and tear on joints paired with overexertion. Joints that are in constant use, like in the fingers, are at high risk. Additionally, load-bearing joints like the knees and hips are also at high risk.
People who have experienced prior injury to a joint are more likely to later develop arthritis in that joint; the same goes for those who neglected to exercise the muscles operating a given joint. Arthritis can occur both from overuse of a joint, or from underuse, making it a disease the elderly are especially susceptible to.
Common Types of Arthritis
Osteoarthritis is the most common form of degenerative arthritis, and it’s also the stereotypical arthritis case for senior citizens. Arthritis in hands, knees, elbows, and other major joints is all but assured after a lifetime of use or a day of overexertion.
Osteoarthritis is the cause of the hobbling and often shaking that the elderly exhibit while trying to move around. It’s a combination of weakness, stiffness, shakiness, pain, and inflammation that is frequently totally debilitating.
Unlike osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder of the cartilage surrounding joints. In a healthy immune system, these pieces of cartilage are maintained carefully. In rheumatoid arthritis, the immune system instead attacks the cartilage, causing it to decay.
Rheumatoid arthritis presents with symptoms not common to osteoarthritis, including rash, fever, hives, and abnormally high body heat. Rheumatoid arthritis can strike people at any age and isn’t necessarily linked to the extent of a joint’s use.
Though relatively uncommon in the Western world thanks to good nutrition standards, the disease called gout can induce a specific form of arthritis which differs from osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis substantially.
In gout arthritis, harmful byproducts of metabolism accumulate in certain joints, causing them to come inflamed, painful, discolored, and swollen. Arthritis from gout is treatable and uncommon.
General Arthritis Symptoms
No matter the type of arthritis, the following symptoms occur:
- Heat in joints
- Loss of flexibility
- Inability to do previously enjoyed activities
- Reduction in physical fitness
- Avoidance of visits to doctor
- Involuntary confinement to the home
Doctors typically diagnose arthritis using reports from the patient, which are then used to guide the doctor’s selection of physical manipulation to test for swelling and pain. Once the doctor has confirmed that swelling and pain fit the mold of arthritis, the doctor can order a series of laboratory tests or imaging studies to confirm the diagnosis.
Importantly, the diagnostic process of arthritis in seniors is very straightforward, and won’t require extensive imaging tests or blood work. Only in young and healthy individuals who have arthritis will these additional tests be necessary; osteoarthritis can be diagnosed by touch and patient interview.
What Can You Do to Relieve Arthritis?
There are some tactics that seniors with osteoarthritis can do to ease the pain and disability that arthritis brings. Not all of these interventions are equally effective, so pick carefully.
Yoga And Other Exercises
Studies show that gentle exercise like in yoga is a great way to stave off the onset of osteoarthritis. Unfortunately, yoga can’t help those who are severely in pain or have extreme stiffness already. Yoga for seniors is a preventative strategy for arthritis or perhaps a treatment for mild arthritis only.
Certain gloves purport to apply pressure to the joints of the hand in a way such that their arthritic inflammation is reduced. While some people may experience relief from these gloves, they probably won’t help everyone. Additionally, if a senior citizen has arthritis primarily outside of their hands, the gloves won’t be able to help.
Essential Oils For Arthritis
Essential oils are largely a sham treatment for arthritis which purports to ease inflammation. Some individuals may experience relief from their arthritic pain via the placebo effect when using essential oils so that it may be worth a try anyway.
Arthritis creams are valid and common treatments for arthritis which typically contain a topically delivered corticosteroid, mild anesthetic, or anti-inflammatory drug. Many of these arthritis creams will be prescription only, and not all creams have the same components or intended use case.
Be sure to ask the doctor about any arthritis creams that are prescribed, as some have contraindications with cosmetic products or other creams.
NSAIDs and Tylenol Arthritis Treatments
As osteoarthritis is a disease characterized by its swelling and pain, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like Tylenol, Advil, and Aleve are excellent over the counter options to treat arthritis. These drugs ease the pain of arthritis while also easing the swelling causing the pain, offering a double punch against arthritis’ effects.
Consult with a doctor before using NSAIDs to ensure proper dosing and to make sure that there aren’t any other drug interactions going on which may cause harm.
How to Prevent Arthritis
Preventing arthritis is an imperfect science, but there are a few tips which are helpful to practice. First, stay physically active in low-impact sports like swimming. Unlike in high impact sports such as running, low impact sports allow for the muscles surrounding joints to get a workout without putting any extra stress on the joint they manipulate.
Aside from participating in low-impact physical activity, avoid using joints that have been injured as much as possible. Though it sounds stupid, one of the biggest predictors of arthritis development is a prior joint injury. Treat your injured joints very tenderly, even after they’ve healed. Doing so will guarantee that they won’t have any additional wear and tear which might develop into arthritis.