Impact of Arthritis in Older Adults

Arthritis is a challenging and uncomfortable disease that affects many seniors and older adults. The Arthritis Foundation provides a general definition of arthritis: Common arthritis joint symptoms include swelling, pain, stiffness, and decreased range of motion. Symptoms may come and go. They can be mild, moderate, or severe. They may stay about the same for years but can progress or get worse over time. Severe arthritis can result in chronic pain, inability to do daily activities, and make it difficult to walk or climb stairs. The term arthritis actually encompasses over 100 types of joint pain and joint diseases, which can affect people in any age group, though it does mainly affect seniors. Luckily, there are many exercises and easy activities that can assist with elderly arthritis pain relief.

Arthritis in Older AdultsImage of Red rubber stamp and red print ARTHRITIS on white surface.

The impact of arthritis in older adults should not be underestimated. In addition to pain and discomfort, senior arthritis also brings with it a lack of mobility. A person suffering from arthritis may have difficulty standing after sitting for a long period of time, like watching a movie or riding in the car. He may also feel particularly stiff in the morning and have a difficult time starting the day. The decrease in mobility may make it more challenging for a senior to participate in activities they used to enjoy, such as shopping, taking walks, or visiting family and friends. As a result, seniors who suffer from arthritis tend to struggle with depression as well.

What Type of Arthritis is Most Common in the Elderly?

Osteoarthritis is the most common arthritis in the elderly. It is degenerative arthritis, meaning the cartilage between the bones in the joints wears away. This will cause pain, swelling, and stiffness. While this can happen as a normal part of aging, other risk factors include excessive weight, family history, and a previous injury to the joint.

Rheumatoid arthritis is less common but can be even more painful. With this type of arthritis, the immune system does not work properly. A healthy immune system uses inflammation to get rid of infection or prevent disease. In a person suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, the immune system attacks and inflames the joints. Early-onset rheumatoid arthritis symptoms include:

  • Joint pain, tenderness, swelling, or stiffness that lasts for six weeks or longer.
  • Morning stiffness that lasts for 30 minutes or longer.
  • More than one joint is affected.
  • Small joints (wrists, certain joints in the hands and feet) are typically affected first.
  • The same joints on both sides of the body are affected.

Rheumatoid arthritis can be treated, and if you believe you or a loved one may be experiencing any of these symptoms, you should see your doctor as soon as possible.

Effects of Arthritis on the Elderly

Arthritis care is not easy, whether you are the person suffering or you are the caregiver for someone who struggles with arthritis. Being in any sort of pain all the time will make anyone miserable, and having that pain exacerbated by movement is even worse. Arthritis can lead to a loss of mobility, which in turn can lead to a loss of a feeling of independence. Many seniors who suffer from arthritis also suffer from depression. It is a disease that takes a physical and mental toll on a person. Luckily, there are some simple things you can do to help a loved one who suffers from arthritis.

  • Ensure medications are being taken. Help your loved one stay organized and stay on the medicine they need to help mitigate their symptoms.
  • Encourage a healthy diet. Diet is important for two reasons. As mentioned earlier, excessive weight can put added strain on joints and worsen arthritis pain. Additionally, there are many healthy foods that can help fight inflammation. Some of those foods include tomatoes, leafy greens like spinach, almonds, and many others.
  • Exercise together. There are several low impact exercises that can help alleviate arthritis pain, such as yoga, tai chi, and swimming.
  • Consider day to day living. Take note of “simple” tasks that are no longer simple for your loved one with arthritis, like opening jars or gripping and moving things from a high shelf. Work with your loved one to find ways around some of these issues.

Elderly Arthritis Pain Relief

There are many different medications designed to help relieve arthritis pain. Many of these medications are NSAIDs (non-steroid anti-inflammatory), which can be helpful but can also come with side effects after long-term use. There are some other useful options to help relieve arthritis pain.

  • Hot and cold treatments. A hot bath or a heating pad on a painful joint can often provide relief. Ice packs can also be useful, especially if a joint is inflamed or swollen.
  • Acupuncture and massage can provide temporary relief to particularly stiff joints.
  • Yoga and meditation can help you relax and ease your pain.
  • Exercise, including stretching, range of motion movement, and strength training for the muscles around the joints can be particularly helpful. Just be sure to listen to your body and don’t overdo it.
  • Maintain good posture when seated and keep moving. Try not to allow your joints to get too stiff throughout the day. For example, stand up and stretch or walk to the kitchen and back during commercials when watching your favorite tv shows.

Arthritis Exercises for Seniors

One of the best exercises for seniors with arthritis is yoga. Yoga can reduce arthritis-related pain by improving joint function, building strength, and promoting relaxation. By combining breathing exercises with strength-based poses and movements, yoga can provide the same benefits as cardio exercises without the negative, high-impact side effects. Some yoga instructors cater their classes to an elderly population and can provide yoga exercises specifically for seniors with arthritis. Similar to yoga, tai chi can be helpful for seniors with arthritis. Tai chi is another form of exercise that includes slow, controlled movements that stretch and strengthen joints. Tai chi classes for seniors with arthritis may be a bit more challenging to find, but you can definitely find them on DVD and streaming online.

Getting in the pool can be a great way to get exercise if you have arthritis. Water exercises put less stress on your joints and help you build muscle by providing 12 times more resistance than air. CreakyJoints.com provides a list of water exercises for seniors with arthritis with clear illustrations and goes into more detail about how they can be beneficial.

We may not be able to cure arthritis yet, but it can be effectively managed. Work with your doctor to understand the disease and how it affects you. Come up with a treatment plan that works for your lifestyle and don’t stop adjusting that plan until you are comfortable, if not completely pain-free. Keep moving and exercising, and talk to your caregiver about ways they can help with your day to day tasks. Arthritis does come with challenges, but all those challenges can be overcome.