What is Arthritis?
Arthritis is a term that refers to over 100 different diseases affecting the joints. The most common form of arthritis in older people is osteoarthritis, which happens when the cartilage protecting the joints simply begins to break down after years of wear and tear. Other forms of arthritis that are common in older people is rheumatoid arthritis, a condition that occurs when the body's immune system attacks the thin membrane that lines the joints, and gout, which occurs when uric acid deposits form in the connective tissue.
What to Look For
The most common symptoms of osteoarthritis are joint pain, swelling, stiffness, warmth and redness in affected area, limited range of motion in the finger joints (especially in women) knees, and hips. Elbow, wrist, and back are less frequently affected.
Usually, early on, acetaminophen brings relief. Advise your loved one not to take too much-nothing over 4,000 mg a day if it's short term, or nothing over 3,000 mg a day if they're taking it long-term. Be sure to check their other meds, such as cold remedies, that can contain acetaminophen. Too much can cause liver damage.
When stronger relief is needed, non-steroidal and anti-inflammatory drugs can help. But they greatly increase the risk of bleeding ulcers, especially in elders, so use caution.
Sometimes doctors administer shots in certain joints, such as the knees. Replacing joints is becoming more and more common, especially for knees and hips, and oftentimes the surgeries do wonders.
How Your Loved Ones Can Help Themselves
- Lose weight if they're heavy.
- Stand and sit up straight.
- Walk. Every day.
- Move around often throughout the day.
- Lift weights.
- Practice tai chi and other gentle exercises.
- Use heating pads and/or cold packs.
If you think your loved one might have arthritis but there has not been a diagnosis, make an appointment immediately. As with so many other diseases, early detection and treatment can improve the outcome.