May is National Arthritis Awareness Month, a time to learn more about this condition that affects 1 in 5 adults in America, a number that includes many of those we serve at Senior Lifestyle. According to the Arthritis Foundation, this debilitating disease is the leading cause of disability in our country, affecting older adults, working-age people, and even children. The word arthritis is an all-encompassing term that refers to over 100 types of joint pain and joint disease, and while the condition is common, it is not well understood. For many arthritis sufferers, symptoms include joint pain, stiffness, swelling, and decreased range of motion, and while these symptoms may come and go, they tend to progress over time. The disease affects more women than men and the risk of arthritis increases with age.
At Senior Lifestyle we’re committed to providing timely information on conditions that affect seniors, and we know that for the roughly 53 million Americans living with arthritis, osteoarthritis is the most common form of the disease, with risk factors that increase with age. Osteoarthritis, also known as degenerative joint disease, is most common in people over the age of 65 and often occurs in the knees, hips, lower back and neck. The condition arises when the cartilage that normally provides a cushion for bones breaks down, causing pain, inflammation and stiffness in the joint. This can cause a “bone on bone” condition in the affected area that leads to increased pain and joint damage, often resulting in the need for joint replacement.
If you’re living with arthritis, there are ways to minimize the pain as well as the long-term effects of the disease:
While it may be difficult to think about exercise when joints are stiff and painful, studies show that a simple exercise plan that includes activities like walking and strength training is an important part of any arthritis treatment plan. Movement increases flexibility in the joint, while strength training helps to build muscle strength, providing support for the affected joint. Yoga, water aerobics and tai chi are excellent forms of exercise that incorporate slow stretching to improve flexibility and ease pain. Exercise also helps maintain a healthy weight, an important factor in decreasing symptoms of osteoarthritis.
Maintaining a healthy weight limits stress on arthritic joints and helps to increase mobility. Decreasing caloric intake while increasing physical activity helps to achieve a healthy weight. Research also shows that diets high in saturated fats such as those found in processed foods can weaken cartilage, increasing the risk of damage. Red meat, sugar and refined carbohydrates also increase inflammation, a condition that worsens symptoms like swelling. An anti-inflammatory diet based on whole grains, fish, and fruits and vegetables is recommended.
While exercise is helpful in managing pain and stiffness, medications are also available to help decrease symptoms of osteoarthritis. Drugs called analgesics are available in pill form as well as creams, lotions and injections, and include acetaminophen and opioids. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDS) are also an option used commonly to decrease swelling and pain. These include drugs like ibuprofen and naproxen and are available over-the-counter and by prescription. Stronger drugs called corticosteroids are taken by mouth or injected into the joint by a doctor to ease pain and inflammation. Additionally, hyaluronic acid, a natural component of joint fluid which breaks down in people with osteoarthritis, can be injected in the affected joint by a physician. Remember, it is important for those with arthritis to discuss pain management with a medical provider to be certain that maximum relief is obtained in a safe manner and side effects are minimized as much as possible.
At Senior Lifestyle, one of our goals is helping our residents maintain health and wellness, so we provide activities, education and support for those living with arthritis as well as other chronic conditions. To learn more about activities designed to help residents achieve health and wellness goals at a Senior Lifestyle community in your area, please visit our website at www.seniorlifestyle.com and schedule a tour today!