For many people, it starts with a bit of stiffness or pain in the joints, especially in the morning. As the symptoms progress into more consistent pain and difficulty doing things, they soon start to realize that they could have arthritis. Arthritis affects millions of Americans each year. Almost 60 million Americans have some form of arthritis. While it primarily impacts older adults, even young children can get arthritis (approximately 300,000 US kids). Children diagnosed with arthritis can largely expect to live normal lives. Seniors with arthritis can have a more difficult time managing their symptoms, as comorbidities common with advanced age influence progression. Issues of mobility and permanent damage to affected areas in the body can severely limit the independence of older adults and their ability to remain at home. Creating an action plan can assist people in knowing what to expect as they age. To make a plan to care for older adults living with arthritis, seniors and their loved ones need to fully understand arthritis, its challenges, and how to get help.
1.What is arthritis?
Arthritis is an umbrella term for over 100 different disorders that cause inflammation in the joints or surrounding joint tissue. The most common types are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, but other arthritic disorders can include gout, lupus, juvenile idiopathic arthritis, and more. Many people think of arthritis as a condition that affects the hands and wrists, but it can impact any joint in the body. It is impossible to cure arthritis, but people can learn to manage their symptoms and live a productive life. Arthritis can worsen over time, which means that seniors can especially experience symptoms or permanent joint damage that makes it difficult to enjoy full mobility.
While even children can get arthritis, it is primarily a condition common in older adults. Almost half of all US adults who are at least 65 years old have arthritis. It is also more common in people who are white and either overweight or obese. People should know that arthritis can strike anyone of any ethnicity or weight. More women than men tend to have arthritis. The reason for this disparity is likely due to the drop in estrogen following menopause, among other factors. Women also feel the effects of the pain more and develop the most serious form of arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, at higher rates.
2. What are the early signs of arthritis?
Early intervention is key for keeping symptoms at bay, but many early symptoms can feel like an injury or irritation. Symptoms can even come and go over many years. It is important to see a doctor about any symptoms someone experiences, especially since different diseases and disorders can have similar symptoms. Noting these early signs of arthritis can help alert people to a potential problem. Individual symptoms can vary based on the placement of the problem in the body and underlining disorder. Only a doctor can diagnose arthritis, but knowing the early signs can serve as an alert for someone to make an appointment with a medical professional. The early signs of the two most common forms of arthritis osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis) can include the following:
- Pain, especially from a joint with a history of injury;
- General stiffness in the extremities;
- Stiffness that lasts for a prolonged time after waking but dissipates later in the day;
- New noise or feeling from the joints;
- Joint sensitivity;
- Pain or sensitivity in the groin;
- Skin rashes, ulcers, and bruising;
- Excessive tiredness;
- Nerve sensations in hands and feet; and,
- Eye sensitivity.
3. What are the main causes of arthritis?
Scientists do not know the precise cause of all arthritic disorders, but the primary cause of arthritis is predominantly genetic combined with external factors. This means that people need to have a genetic predisposition for an arthritic disorder in order to develop it. Whether someone with a genetic marker for it actually develops arthritis or to the extent that they do can depend on the care and damage to their joints throughout their lives. These are some of the potential causes of different types of arthritis that scientists do know:
- Familial diagnosis;
- Persistent joint injuries;
- Biological sex;
- Excessive exercise, such as through strenuous sports;
- Autoimmune disorders; and,
4. What are the main types of arthritis in seniors?
Arthritis is a general term for many different inflammatory and autoimmune disorders. Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are the most common forms of arthritis, and rheumatoid is often the most debilitating of the two. Approximately 10 million older adults (those aged 50 and older) have osteoarthritis in the US. Fewer people experience rheumatoid arthritis, which impacts less than 1.5 million Americans. Understanding more about some of these arthritic disorders can help people understand the care they need in order to arrange the appropriate support.
Osteoarthritis is a localized inflammatory joint condition. It arises from either long-term injury to the joint or a genetic issue that creates problems with the construction of the joint. Osteoarthritis usually contains the following symptoms:
- Pain or lack of mobility after periods of idleness;
- Stiffness in the joints;
- Unstable joints; and,
Instead of an isolated condition, rheumatoid arthritis is a systematic and persistent disorder. As an autoimmune disorder, it is both genetic and hereditary. It is a progressive disease that increases inflammation around the joints. While there are typically periods in which symptoms decrease or stabilize, the disease worsens over time. It can lead to a major lack of mobility and intense pain. These are the common symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.
- Joint swelling;
- Symptoms that are identical on both sides of the body;
- Reduced red blood cell count;
- Joint pain; and,
- Decreased mobility.
Psoriatic arthritis affects the joints and connective joint tissues. This type of arthritis impacts people with the autoimmune disease psoriasis, which creates flare-ups of symptoms on the skin. People with this disorder have red, scaled patches on their skin. These are the primary symptoms of psoriatic arthritis:
- Edema in the appendages;
- Exhaustion and joint stiffness, especially in the morning;
- Splits or lack of growth in nails; and,
- Soreness surrounding the joints.
Gout is an inflammatory disease that comes from a buildup of uric acid. This creates swelling and pain that can limit mobility. Symptoms tend to occur in flares, and patients may experience long periods of remission. Gout primarily affects the great toe and foot region, but it can impact other joint areas. These are some of the most common symptoms of gout:
- Swelling and pain in the great toe;
- Sensation of heat, especially in the toe joint;
- Joint swelling; and,
- Joint pain.
Lupus is an autoimmune disorder that can impact the joints, connective tissue, and organs in the body. Several different forms of lupus exist, and scientists do not yet know the cause of lupus. People can have mild to severe and debilitating forms of the disease. People can use these symptoms of lupus as a guide for when to reach out to their doctor:
- Facial rashes;
- Muscle soreness;
- Discoloration or lack of proper circulation to fingers and toes;
- Oral ulcers;
- Swollen lymph nodes; and,
- Joint pain.
5. Living with Arthritis: How does arthritis affect seniors’ daily life?
The degree to which arthritis impacts seniors’ daily lives depends on the type of arthritis, the severity of the disease, and the progression of the disease. Breaking down the different outlooks can give patients and their families a better understanding of what to expect.
FAQ: What quality of life looks like with arthritis?
Some arthritic disorders can severely impact the outlook people have toward life and the things that they can do. Increasing isolation as people age can make it even more difficult for older adults to cope. Families and patients should look out for certain issues when assessing the need for care.
Some people experience only mild symptoms. For the many who have more severe symptoms, the impact on their psychological and everyday quality of life can be much more severe and include:
- Anxiety and depression;
- Difficulty moving around their home;
- Inability to use hands to perform bi-manual or intricate tasks;
- Loss of function for self-bathing;
- Loss of ability to drive; and,
- Inability to lift objects, such as a toothbrush or food.
Rheumatoid arthritis can be very debilitating for patients as the disease progresses. Those with a diagnosis in their senior years often experience more symptoms than their younger counterparts. These are the primary psychological and personal care quality of life issues to look out for older adult patients with rheumatoid arthritis:
- Increase in falls;
- Depressed mood due to changes in mobility or pain;
- Comorbidities that increase injuries as a result of falls;
- Inability to safely get in and out of the bath or shower alone;
- Difficulty moving around the house;
- Decreased ability to stand or coordinate food preparation;
- Lack of sleep; and,
- Limitations in work that requires physical or sustained movement.
- Rheumatoid may increase heart attack and stroke risk
How to improve the quality of life for seniors with arthritis
When it comes to osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, some of the best ways to improve the quality of life for seniors with the disorders involve a regimented care routine. Regular exercise can have a profound impact on reducing the progression of the disease. Exercises under the direction of a physical therapist may be more beneficial and safer. Aquatic therapy (exercises in a pool) can have particularly beneficial effect. Seniors may also need to take medications and follow explicit instructions, often from multiple specialist providers. Professional assistance can help seniors develop a routine or assist with tasks as they age and their disease progresses. This aid can help older adults maintain independence in their later years.
FAQ: When is it time to get help for arthritis?
If a patient suspects that they have the symptoms of arthritis, they should consult with their doctor. Pain in multiple joints or swelling or redness even in a single joint should warn a more urgent evaluation. Working with their doctors, physical therapists, or other specialists, patients can develop a plan to meet their specific needs. Furthermore, persistent pain that is not responsive to at-home treatments, sustained joint pain after physical activity, and warmed or red skin over the joints are all early warning signs that indicate someone should seek medical advice.