Arthritis Awareness for Caregivers
As our bodies age, we sometimes have complaints of muscle aches, joint pain, stiffness and other similar maladies. Often the word "arthritis" comes to mind. Just what is "arthritis" and how many people does it affect?
Actually, "arthritis" means inflammation of a joint. The term "arthritis" is often used in reference to over 100 rheumatic conditions. These various conditions affect the joints, tissues, and connective tissue and can be related to a disease, an infection, or a genetic defect. It is this inflammation process that causes pain, stiffness, and swelling and sometimes deformity. Depending of the specific condition, the immune system and various internal organs may be affected.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, forty-six million Americans have reported being told by a doctor they have arthritis or a related rheumatic condition and the activities of nearly 19 million adults are limited due to disability caused by arthritis. (1)
Fifty percent of the population age 65 and older have some form of arthritis, as reported in a study by the National Institute on Aging of the U.S. National Institutes of Health. (2)
There are various forms of arthritic type conditions that we hear mentioned frequently including: Osteoarthritis (OA), Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA), Gout, Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE), and Fibromyalgia.
The most common forms of arthritis in older adults are: Osteoarthritis, Rheumatoid Arthritis, and Gout.
Osteoarthritis (OA), also known as degenerative arthritis, is the most common form, and is caused by "wear and tear" when the cartilage between the bones begins to wear away and the bones rub against one another. The knees, hips, hands, neck and lower back are affected most frequently.
The symptoms may vary from stiffness and/or mild pain, to severe pain that doesn't go away. OA can make it hard to move. As the symptoms increase, a disability may occur if the back, knees, or hips are involved. Some of the causes are: a heredity tendency, previous injury, being overweight, and the aging process.
Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is a type of arthritis in which the body attacks itself. It is an autoimmune disease characterized by severe pain, swelling and stiffness, and sometimes fever and tiredness. RA can damage any joint, cause deformity, and may affect the heart, muscles, blood vessels, nervous system and eyes.
Gout is very painful and most often occurs in the big toe, but may affect other joints, as well. Swelling may be prevalent and cause the area to become red or purple and extremely tender. Older men are affected more often than women.
Causes of Gout include: eating foods high in purines, drinking alcohol, being overweight and taking certain medications, especially for blood pressure control.
If you or the person you are caring for have any of the following symptoms that last more than two weeks, see your health care provider to determine the cause and treatment.
Watch for continuing joint pain, joint swelling and/or stiffness, tenderness or pain in a joint, difficulty moving a joint normally, and warmth and/or redness in a joint. If joint problems suddenly appear, especially accompanied by a fever, see your health care provider right away.
Treating arthritis often involves changes to a healthy lifestyle. Getting enough rest and sleep, eating a healthy diet, maintaining an appropriate weight for your size, doing the right types of exercises for your condition, and protecting your joints are important things you can do to help yourself.
There are many "gadgets" on the market that can aid with household chores, such as jar openers, kitchen utensils with large padded handles, and special types of door and faucet handles.
Many people have the mindset that they are "giving in" if they use a cane to aid in mobility. The use of a mobility device such as a cane, crutches, or even a walker can ease the pain in knees, hips or back by relieving the pressure on damaged joints.
Discuss medications, any alternative treatments, and assistive devices with your health care provider that are appropriate for your condition. Be sure to follow their instructions carefully. Some of the medications for arthritic conditions, including over-the-counter (OTC) preparations have serious side effects.
Be wary of remedies that have not been tested or proven helpful.
(1) Source: http://www.cdc.gov/arthritis; Accessed 10/8/2009.
(2) Source: http://www.nia.nih.gov/HealthInformation/Publications/arthritis.htm. Accessed 10/8/09.