Arthritis in Seniors: A Smooth Overview
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    Feeling stiff? Experiencing joint pain? Blaming it on getting older?

    Many say it is inevitable that with age comes arthritis. However, you may be interested to know that according to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) sixty percent of US adults with arthritis are actually between the ages of 18 to 64 years. Arthritis affects 23 percent of adults in the US, and forty percent of those are our elders.

    Some forms of arthritis are related to lifestyle and genetics, while others are related closely to chronic illness and are classified as autoimmune disorders. The good news is that with proper care and lifestyle changes much of the pain associated with arthritis can be reduced or eliminated.

    What Type of Arthritis is Most Common in the Elderly?

    There are several types of arthritis that affect all ages, they include:

    • Osteoarthritis
    • Gout
    • Rheumatoid Arthritis, and Lupus

    Let’s briefly outline each type:

    Osteoarthritis (OA)

    This is the most common form of arthritis among seniors. Some refer to it as “wear and tear” arthritis and think of it as inevitable for joints to break down over time. It mostly occurs in the knees, hips, and hands.

    With OA, the cartilage begins to break down and the underlying bone begins to change. These changes worsen over time. OA can cause one to feel pain, stiffness, and swelling. At its worst, some people are disabled and no longer able to work.

    The risk of developing OA increases with age and women experience OA more than men do. Obesity puts a lot of stress on joints and can increase the risk of developing OA.

    The main symptoms of OA are:

    • Stiffness
    • Pain or aching
    • Decreased flexibility
    • Swelling of joints

    Osteoarthritis relief: Medications are available to provide pain relief from OA. Your doctor may give you a shot in an affected joint to reduce the pain. Some people decide to have surgery to replace joints damaged by OA.


    Gout is a very painful form of inflammatory arthritis and is fairly common. It usually affects one joint, predominantly the big toe. Initially when one experiences symptoms, known as flares, it can start suddenly and last for days or weeks. Often a flare is followed by remission, which can last for weeks, months, or years. It can stay in one joint or affect other joints such as other toe joints, the ankle, or the knee.

    Symptoms of gout include:

    • Pain, usually intense
    • Swelling
    • Redness
    • Heat

    Those most likely to experience gout are obese men with certain health conditions which include:

    • Hypertension
    • Diabetes
    • Poor kidney function
    • Metabolic syndrome

    Gout relief: There is no cure for gout. But it is known to be caused by a condition called hyperuricemia. This is a condition where there is too much uric acid in the body. This is often associated with diet. Many believe that with changes to one’s diet and activity the effects of gout can be reduced or even eliminated. While there is no cure for gout, it can be effectively managed with medications and health management strategies.

    Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)

    RA is a serious autoimmune disease, which means that your immune system attacks healthy cells in your body, causing inflammation in the affected parts of the body. It usually attacks several joints at the same time. Most commonly it affects the hands, wrists, and knees. RA causes damage to the joint tissue that can result in chronic pain.

    Lupus is also an autoimmune disease that can appear to be RA. They share many of the exact same symptoms. Similarly, it affects the immune system and can cause severe joint and tissue pain. Lupus differs in that it can affect any organ of the body. It is important to work closely with a rheumatologist when getting treatment and making sure that a clear diagnosis is made.

    Like OA, RA can flare up and with the proper care, calm down and go into remission.

    Symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis include:

    • Pain and stiffness in more than one joint
    • Tenderness and swelling in more than one joint
    • The same symptoms on both sides of the body, such as in both hands
    • Weight loss and fatigue
    • Fever

    While RA can be diagnosed at any age, it mostly occurs in women who are over the age of 60. Also, people born with specific genes are more likely to develop RA. Other risk factors include:

    • Smoking and early exposure to smokers
    • Obesity
    • Women who haven’t breastfed

    Rheumatoid arthritis relief: There are several options that can be used to treat RA. Medications can be prescribed to manage and relieve pain and control inflammation. There are also anti-rheumatic drugs that can slow the damage that this disease causes.

    Given that RA is an autoimmune disease, there is no cure. It is a disease that can be managed and in some cases maintain years and years of remission. But it is necessary to monitor the disease and work on diet, exercise, and sleep. With serious lifestyle changes, it has been shown that people can reduce the pain and severity associated with flares.

    Arthritis Treatment for Older Adults

    All forms of arthritis attack joint tissue and bones and all share many of the same symptoms. Currently there is no cure for any one type of arthritis. Yet, there is research and anecdotal evidence that there is much we can do to reduce and even eliminate symptoms. All require effort and the willingness to change habits in the interest of feeling better. While doctors are able to treat symptoms, it is up to us to manage what we can to limit the disease.

    Exercises for Seniors with Arthritis

    Exercise is vital when dealing with arthritis. It is one of the most important things one can do to reduce symptoms of any form of arthritis. Consider your options for finding a form of exercise you will enjoy.

    Range of motion and flexibility exercises helps to improve circulation, muscle strength, and reduce pain. Practices to consider are:

    • Yoga
    • Dance
    • Tai chi

    Aerobic and endurance exercises help to reduce stress, risk of chronic illness, and insomnia. Practices to consider are:

    • Walking
    • Group exercise classes
    • Swimming and other water exercises

    Weight and strength training exercises help to strengthen bones, improve posture, and reduce the risk of injury. Practices to consider are:

    • Lifting weights
    • Isometric exercise

    The good news is that there are many ways to help reduce the severity of flares and chronic pain. It is important to consider all the aspects of treating arthritis. Proper treatment and support from a doctor or physical therapist are as indispensable as being proactive in changing our personal habits. Exercise and diet can help fortify and strengthen the body. It is clear that research is showing that successful treatment of arthritis requires a holistic care approach.


    Arthritis (CDC)

    Senior Arthritis: Symptoms & Care

    Management of chronic arthritis pain in the elderly.

    About the Author(s)

    As a Volunteer Caregiver to the Zen Hospice Project and a Course Manager at the CareGivers Project, Audrey Meinertzhagen is passionate about improving the standards of care for older adults and educating caregivers on the principles of mindfulness and self-care.

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