Senior Arthritis

Arthritis is commonly thought of as a condition where the joints become stiff and painful.

In truth, however, arthritis comes in many different forms, each with its own treatments and symptoms. The most common symptoms of arthritis across most all forms include enduring joint pain, joint swelling and stiffness, redness and warmth in and around the joint, exterior pain or tenderness over the joint and difficulty using a joint as normal. Half of people 65 years of age and older have some form of arthritis. Senior arthritis can be chronic and last for the rest of an individual’s life. Fortunately, senior arthritis can be treated, and its symptoms can be alleviated. The most common forms of arthritis in seniors are osteoarthritis, gout and rheumatoid arthritis. Other types of arthritis that can affect a senior include the following:

  • Ankylosing spondylitis – Affecting mostly the spine.
  • Arthritis in the temporomandibular joint – Occurring when the jaw meets the skull.
  • Reactive arthritis – Presenting as a response to some other physical illness.
  • Psoriatic arthritis – Occurring only in people with psoriasis.

No matter what form of arthritis a senior experiences, certain light exercises can help alleviate symptoms and improve recovery while other treatment methods are in effect. Such exercises include light range-of-motion like senior yoga or dance class, gentle weight lifting and light endurance and aerobic exercises like walks, senior aerobics or stationary bicycle rides.

Osteoarthritis (OA)

The most prevalent form of senior arthritis, osteoarthritis, occurs when the cartilage in the joints between bones starts to wear and get ragged. In the most severe of OA cases, the cartilage in the joints wears away completely, leaving nothing between the bones to prevent them from rubbing against one another. OA is most common in the lower back, neck, hands, hips and knees. The common causes of OA, besides mere aging, include the following:

  • Osteoarthritis in the knees is mostly caused by being overweight.
  • Osteoarthritis in the knees, hips or hands can also be caused by overuse or injury
  • Osteoarthritis in the hips or hands may also appear due to genetics, especially if other people in your family have had this condition.

Symptoms of OA vary widely, depending on the location and degree of progression of the condition and the lifestyle of the senior. A senior with OA can feel periodic stiffness while walking, stooping or bending, occasionally with mild pain. Alternatively, a senior could experience severe pain while sitting still or lying down that prevents relaxation, focus or sleep. Stiffness from OA can feel worse after long periods in a single position, such as sitting in the car or lying in bed, which may dissipate after the joint undergoes some movement. Alternatively, OA stiffness can produce difficulties moving affected joints and disability if the hips, knees or back are involved.

OA is commonly treated using medications along alternating periods of rest and exercise. Doctors also recommend seniors with OA to keep their weight under control. Painful OA in the knees can be alleviated with occasional injections. In severe cases, surgery could be used to replace a joint or repair joint damage. Some seniors with OA have found benefits from alternative therapies and nutritional supplements such as chondroitin and glucosamine, as well as acupuncture.

Gout

Gout is perhaps the most painful type of arthritis, occurring when uric acid crystals form in the joint spaces or connective tissue. These deposits can produce symptoms of redness, swelling, stiffness, heat and pain in the affected joint. Gout often occurs in spurts, called “attacks,” that can be caused by a variety of factors, including the following:

  • Certain medications, including blood pressure medications.
  • Eating gravy, anchovies, peas, dried beans, liver or shellfish.
  • Alcohol use.
  • Being overweight.

The joint most often affected by gout attacks is the big toe, though it can also strike the other toes or the hands, wrists, knees, elbows or ankles. The skin might pull around the joint tightly from the swelling, leading to a tenderness and a red or purple color to the area. Upon examination, a doctor may recommend x-rays and blood tests, as well as collect a fluid sample from the affected joint.

Treating gout involves speaking with your doctor to determine the cause of your gout attacks. Once you identify the cause of your gout, you and your doctor can figure out how to prevent attacks in the future. Corticosteroid medications like prednisone or NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) are most commonly used to treat gout attacks. These drugs reduce swelling in a few minutes or hours and alleviate the attack in a few days’ time.

Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)

Technically an autoimmune disease, rheumatoid arthritis is when your body’s immune system attacks the joint lining as if it were an infection or injury. Like a toe might become inflamed upon being stubbed or a finger swollen around an area recently cut, in RA, the joints become inflamed, leading to stiffness and difficulty moving. Rheumatoid arthritis can occur in multiple joints simultaneously and last for hours. Nearly any joint can be affected by RA, including the neck, feet, ankles, knees, hips, elbows, shoulders, wrists and fingers. RA tends to occur in joints on both sides of the body at once, so, if you have RA in a particular joint on one side of your body, odds are that you will eventually develop RA in the same joint on the opposite side of your body. Rheumatoid arthritis does not just attack joints, either. Muscles and organs are also affected, including the eyes, nervous system, blood vessels and heart. Accompanying symptoms might include fatigue, general malaise and a fever. Women are more prone to developing RA than men, although anyone at any age can develop this disease.

Treating RA involves a combination of anti-inflammatory and pain-relief medications, as well as an antirheumatic medication called a disease-modifying antirheumatic drug (DMARD). DMARDs can slow the harm being caused by the disease. Corticosteroid medications like prednisone can help keep the swelling down while the DMARDs take effect. When other treatments have failed or when a senior experiences only moderate or mild RA, biologic 1 that blocks damage caused by the body’s own immune system may be used.

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