I see the elderly every day. There are many that are quite healthy and active, however, on the flip side, many are suffering tremendously with varied aches and pains. Many are not willing to do the necessary to keep the joints going, but this is critical. Usually one of the popular culprits behind their suffering is osteoarthritis, or rheumatoid arthritis.
Osteoarthritis, the most common form of arthritis, is degenerative. It happens due to the breakdown of the tissue inside the joints.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease. This is when your immune system, which usually fights infection, attacks the cells that line your joints, making them swollen, stiff and painful.
- Age – Incidences of osteoarthritis increase with age due to simple “wear and tear” on the joints. The older you are, the more you have used your joints. However, it is not an inevitable part of aging, because not everyone gets it.
- Obesity – Increased body weight, which adds stress to lower body joints, is a well-established factor in the development of osteoarthritis. The knees carry the brunt of someone’s body weight, and are particularly at risk. Every extra pound a person gains, adds 4 pounds of pressure on the knees, and 6 times the pressure on the hips. Gaining weight increases the likelihood of developing osteoarthritis
- Injury or Overuse – Athletes and people whose jobs require repetitive motion (landscaping, typing or operating machinery), have a higher risk of developing osteoarthritis, due to injury and increased stress on certain joints. Soft tissue injuries can lead to osteoarthritis. It can also appear in joints affected by previous bone fractures and surgeries.
- Genetics or Heredity – Genetics plays a role in the development and progression of osteoarthritis, particularly in the hands. Inherited bone abnormalities affect joint shape, stability, or defects that cause cartilage to form abnormally. It is also more common in joints that do not fit together smoothly, such as those of people who are bowlegged or double jointed. Having these traits, however, does not necessarily mean osteoarthritis will develop.
- Muscle Weakness – Studies show that weakness of the muscles surrounding the knee is associated with osteoarthritis, especially in women, and makes the pain and stiffness worse after onset. Strengthening exercises for thigh muscles are important in reducing the risk.
One of the main symptoms of osteoarthritis is its effect on the cartilage of a person’s joints. Cartilage acts as a sort of cushion, or hinge in between the joints. When everything is working well, the cartilage protects the bones of the joint from rubbing together. In someone with osteoarthritis, the cartilage around the affected joints begins to die and disappear.
This, in turn, causes the bones in the joint to begin to rub directly against one another, which can be incredibly painful. It is also common for this to result in small bone fragments to break away, which can cause infection and disability. In the body, any joint can fall victim to the effects of osteoarthritis. It is most often found in joints such as the hip and knee, which are weight-bearing but it can also be found in smaller joints, such as the hand.
In most cases, only one joint in a pair will be affected by this disease. For example, in someone with knee osteoarthritis, if the right knee is infected, the left knee typically would not be. This is referred to as an asymmetrical arthritis.
Sufferers will generally have:
- Pain, swelling or stiffness in one or more joints.
- Pain or stiffness in the back or neck.
- Pain and stiffness after heavy activity, such as gardening, housework, long walks, and on awaking on mornings. Light activity might actually relieve some of the symptoms.
The exact trigger of this auto-immune disorder is not known. It shares a number of similarities with osteoarthritis, but is considered to be symmetrical arthritis; that is, joints are usually affected uniformly.
- Pain– It tends to be a throbbing and aching pain, often worse in the mornings, and is often felt while resting, rather than after activity.
- Stiffness– Joints affected can feel stiff, especially in the morning, and can last longer than half an hour.
- Warmth and redness– As the lining of the affected joint becomes inflamed, it can cause the joints to swell, become hot, tender to touch, and painful.
- Inflammation – The condition can also cause inflammation of your tear glands, salivary glands, the lining of your heart and lungs, and your blood vessels.
There is no cure, but there are many ways to make life more comfortable, and keep you mobile and independent:
- Diet– Keep weight down to avoid unnecessary wear on the joints.
- Exercise – Keep a good balance of adequate rest with sensible exercise (such as walking, cycling and swimming); stop any exercise, or activity that increases the pain though.
- Heat – Arthritis responds better to warm conditions; applying heat can soothe the pain and stiffness.
- Physiotherapy – This can be helpful in improving muscle tone, reducing stiffness, and maintaining mobility.
- Walking aids – Shoe inserts, good footwear and a walking stick can help painful knees, hips, and feet.
- Aqua therapy – Water therapy is a modern, extremely effective form of exercise that helps significantly with arthritic pains, whilst maintaining mobility.
- Medication – Aspirin, Ibuprofen and Paracetamol are pain-killers that can be used. The doctor may prescribe special anti-arthritic medication, such as anti- inflammatory drugs.
Special equipment to help elderly arthritis
It is possible to increase your aging parent’s independence at home. There is a wide range of inexpensive equipment and tools that can help with cooking, cleaning and other household chores. These can be discussed with the doctor, physiotherapist, or occupational therapist.
Modern surgery can give excellent results with relief of severe pain for most joints. The new techniques and artificial joints are improving all the time, so there is no need to suffer with severe pain.
Your feet mirror your general health . . . cherish them!