What is Arthritis?

Arthritis in the elderly is characterized as the inflammation of the joints. This painful condition affects millions of people, with symptoms that include stiffness and pain. Arthritis can affect any part of the body, depending on the type of arthritis and the cause of the damage.

Arthritis can also affect people of all ages, genders, cultures, and races. Seniors are the most common age group to experience arthritis. In fact, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that 49.6% of people 65 years and older have reported doctor-diagnosed arthritis, making arthritis a common concern among aging seniors.

What are the Causes of Arthritis?

The pain of arthritis is caused by the deterioration of the joints. The body responds with inflammation, which can also lead to stiffness and localized pain. Arthritis can also affect any joint within the body. The cause of deterioration depends on the type of arthritis.

Osteoarthritis is the gradual deterioration of the joints’ cartilage over time. While cartilage is flexible and meant to cushion your joints during movement, it can wear down over time. This deterioration can come from injury or age. Additionally, genetics can play a role in arthritis.

The cause of Rheumatoid arthritis, another form of arthritis, is unknown. Medical experts estimate that dietary habits and genetics can increase the chance of RA. Infections and elevated levels of uric acid in the blood can also lead to certain forms of arthritis.

What are the Symptoms of Arthritis?

The symptoms of arthritis vary in terms of location and severity. The most common symptoms of arthritis include:

  • Joint pain
  • Joint swelling
  • Joint stiffness
  • Warm joints
  • Decreased range of motion
  • Morning stiffness

Many patients who deal with arthritis report that their symptoms are the worst in the morning. They might find it difficult to get out of bed or to get moving in the morning. The symptoms of arthritis can develop over time, or they can seem to come out of nowhere. Experiencing these symptoms for a period of two weeks or longer can indicate arthritis and indicates that you should schedule an appointment with your doctor.

How is Arthritis Treated?

The goal of arthritis treatment is to minimize symptoms and prevent further joint damage. Treatment options will vary, depending on the form of arthritis, but might include:

  • Exercise: Exercise loosens the muscles and lubricates the joints, which can reduce inflammation and prevent further damage. Physical therapy might be an option for some seniors who find it difficult to exercise comfortably.
  • Medication: Anti-inflammatory medications can reduce inflammation in the body. Seniors dealing with autoimmune types of arthritis may benefit from anti-rheumatic medications.
  • Weight loss: Excessive weight can worsen the symptoms of arthritis. Arthritis pain can be managed with a weight loss plan.
  • Joint replacement: Because cartilage does not grow back, joint replacement might be needed in severe cases. Joint replacement is most common when arthritis affects the hips or knees. Joint fusion might also be an option for arthritis pain in the fingers or wrists.

The pain of arthritis can prevent seniors from exercising. However, because exercise is important when managing the symptoms of arthritis, some doctors might prescribe medications or physical therapy to assist the senior in developing an exercise plan. Low-impact aerobic exercise or water therapy may also ease the pain of physical activity.

The treatment of arthritis will also depend on the type of arthritis. Types of arthritis-like osteoarthritis that occurs over time are best treated with anti-inflammatory medications and exercise. Arthritis that is brought on by an autoimmune response, such as with Rheumatoid arthritis, may need more aggressive treatment like immunosuppressants.

When to See a Doctor for Arthritis

The best way to manage the symptoms of arthritis is to begin treating the symptoms as early as possible. If you notice any symptoms of joint pain, joint swelling, warm or tender points, or decreased range of motion for two weeks or longer, it is time to consult with your doctor.

Developing a fever, along with these symptoms, can indicate a more serious form of arthritis, and you should see a doctor as soon as possible. Additionally, if you find it difficult to complete daily tasks because of arthritis symptoms, it might be beneficial to work with a doctor who specializes in arthritis in seniors.

Arthritis Diagnosis

If you or a loved one is experiencing joint pain or inflammation for two weeks or longer, it might be due to arthritis. One of the first steps toward a diagnosis of arthritis is to consult with your primary physician. Your primary physician will complete a physical exam. They will check for joint pain, range of motion, and look for any warm or tender joint spots. 

They will also take your blood during your check-up. Your blood can identify things like anti-CCP or a rheumatoid factor, which can assist with your arthritis diagnosis. C-reactive proteins could also indicate inflammation in the body, which can help with developing an effective treatment plan.

Your doctor might also order imaging like an X-ray, MRI, bone scan, or CT scan to view your bones and cartilage. If an autoimmune condition like Rheumatoid arthritis is suspected, then your doctor might refer you to a rheumatologist. Seniors with severe arthritic symptoms might consult with an orthopedic surgeon.

Medications for Arthritis

Medications for arthritis can assist seniors in reducing inflammation and managing the symptoms of arthritis. In many cases, medications can initially reduce pain, allowing the senior to develop a physical therapy or exercise routine that helps. The following medications are commonly used when treating arthritis:

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): NSAIDs are used to reduce inflammation, the bodies’ response to joint damage.
  • Over the counter medications: OTC medications like Tylenol or Aspirin might be prescribed to manage mild symptoms.
  • Corticosteroid injection: A corticosteroid injection is the direct injection of steroids into the problematic joint. This method ensures that the medication reaches the intended location quicker, often resulting in a faster reduction of symptoms.
  • Opioids: Opioids might be used to manage the long-term effects of arthritis, especially in patients who have chronic pain.
  • Disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs): DMARDs are used to treat Rheumatoid arthritis or other forms of arthritis, like Ankylosing Spondylosis. They work by slowing down the disease and its symptoms.
  • Immunosuppressants: Immunosuppressants are also used in the treatment of autoimmune diseases like Rheumatoid arthritis and Ankylosing Spondylosis. They work by reducing the immune system, which can prevent it from attacking the bodies’ joints.
  • Menthol creams: Menthol creams contain ingredients that cool and heat the body. This sensation can distract seniors from localized, painful joints.
  • Over the counter supplements: OTC supplements like glucosamine and chondroitin have received mix reviews from arthritis patients. However, its low risk makes it a treatment option that is worth trying for patients looking for other pain management options.

It is important to always discuss your arthritis symptoms with your doctor before trying a new treatment plan. Whether you begin with a milder approach like glucosamine and chondroitin or your arthritis symptoms require a more aggressive approach, your doctor is a valuable source of information.

Arthritis Risk Factors

While arthritis can affect anyone at any age or gender, there are a few risk factors that can increase your chances of developing arthritis. A few risk factors include:

  • Age: Seniors are at an increased risk for arthritis. Over time, the cartilage in the body wears down, leading to osteoarthritis diseases.
  • Obesity: Extra body weight adds extra pressure to the bodies’ joints. This can lead to degenerative arthritis and chronic pain.
  • Family history: Genetics plays an important role in arthritis, especially when considering types of autoimmune diseases like Rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Previous injury: the previous injury can also increase the chances of osteoarthritis.

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle with a balanced diet and ample exercise can reduce the chances or severity of symptoms of arthritis in the elderly.

Arthritis Prevention

Unfortunately, arthritis cannot always be prevented. However, there are things that you can do to reduce the symptoms you might experience from arthritis. These include:

  • Maintain a healthy lifestyle: Being overweight and consuming foods that are high in fat and sugar can worsen the symptoms of arthritis. Many experts also believe that an anti-inflammatory diet can even prevent the symptoms of autoimmune disease forms of arthritis.
  • Create a safe living environment: Injury can lead to osteoarthritis symptoms. Creating a safe living environment for seniors who might otherwise be at risk of falling or injuring themselves can reduce disease onset.
  • Protect your body: Physical sports and labor-intensive careers can put extra pressure on the bodies’ joints. Wearing protective gear and taking the necessary precautions to avoid injury can prevent the occurrence of arthritis later on.
  • Exercise: Exercise helps you maintain healthy body weight while encouraging you to practice good posture. Stretching is especially effective in protecting the cartilage of the joints.

Some studies even point to Lyme disease as being a cause of certain forms of arthritis. It can be useful to wear protective clothing and avoid areas with a large number of ticks.

Because arthritis is one of the most common senior ailments, prevention is an important part of reducing the symptoms and delaying the onset of arthritis pain.

Special Concerns for Elderly Patient

Arthritis can affect your quality of life, regardless of your age. However, the symptoms of arthritis can make it even more difficult for seniors to stay active, especially when they are also dealing with other medical concerns. Exercise is important in the prevention of many senior conditions, which can make arthritis problematic.

Seniors with arthritis are also at an increased risk of falling. Household adjustments can make mobility easier as seniors develop arthritis symptoms, while also preventing injury. Seniors with severe cases of arthritis can also be at risk of developing symptoms like a loss of appetite, depression, anemia, and a fever. Some seniors can also develop bone erosions as a result of autoimmune forms of arthritis, which can lead to additional pain.

Another concern for elderly people dealing with arthritis is the potential for medication interactions. Seniors who take medications for other medical conditions will need to inform their physician in order to prevent dangerous interactions.

Questions to Ask Your Doctor

Being active in the treatment of your arthritis is important. Consider these questions to ask your doctor:

  • What type of arthritis do you suspect that I have?
  • Do I need medication, or can these symptoms be treated in other ways?
  • How long will I need to take this medication?
  • Will this medication interact with any of my current medications?
  • What exercises are safe for me to do?
  • Is physical therapy an option for me?
  • How will we monitor my condition?
  • What risk factors should I be aware of that require immediate attention?

Managing Arthritis

It is possible to manage arthritis to minimize the damage to your joints and the symptoms you experience daily. These tips can help you manage the daily pain that comes with arthritis:

  • Exercise: While bodyweight is not directly correlated to the cause of arthritis, extra bodyweight can exacerbate the symptoms. Your doctor might request that you lose bodyweight. Additionally, exercise can loosen the joints and prevent inflammation over time.
  • Physical therapy: Physical therapy can help seniors strengthen surrounding muscles, which can prevent further injury from occurring.
  • Heat/cold treatment: Heat/cold treatment can reduce inflammation and swelling in the joints.
  • Diet: A healthy diet that includes foods with natural antioxidants and anti-inflammatory features can also help to control the symptoms of arthritis. This also means preventing fatty foods, which can increase inflammation like sugar and some meats.

Managing the daily symptoms of osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid arthritis is possible. Additionally, prevention can help to avoid a worsening of the joints.

How Do You Live With Arthritis?

Arthritis is a chronic condition with no treatment. Fortunately, though, there are things that you can do to manage the pain and reduce the inflammation. One of the first steps to effectively managing arthritis is to find a good medical team that you can trust. Your medical provider will want to track your progress and find a treatment plan that manages your symptoms effectively. Lifestyle habits like exercise and eating a well-balanced diet can also affect your symptoms. Working with a nutritionist can prove to be beneficial by cutting out foods that cause additional inflammation.

Home modifications can help seniors maintain an independent lifestyle in their current house. Taking steps like moving the main bedroom to the main floor or increasing the height of the chairs in the house can reduce the need for actions that worsen arthritic symptoms. 

Home modifications can be customized based on the type of arthritis and which part of the body the arthritis is affecting. Seniors with arthritic hands might find the use of automatic kitchen tools to be useful. Seniors with lower back or hip pain might enjoy a higher bed that is easier to get in and out of. Arthritis exercise is crucial when living with arthritis and can be customized to the individual needs and restrictions of seniors.

It can also be useful to find a good support system of others who are also dealing with similar symptoms.

How to Help Your Loved One Post Arthritis

The symptoms of arthritis can be overwhelming and prevent seniors from completing necessary household tasks. While you cannot eliminate the pain of arthritis, you can help your loved one manage the symptoms. Tasks, like taking out the garbage or mowing the lawn, can be difficult when a senior is experiencing pain.

You can also offer your loved one emotional support. The pain from arthritis can wear on a person over time, especially if it prevents them from doing the things they once enjoyed or getting a good night of sleep.

You can also assist your loved one in creating and sticking to an exercise regime. Range of motion exercises like head tilts and neck rotations can keep the joints lubricated while preventing stiffness.

Insurance Considerations

Fortunately, most insurance providers will cover the treatment of arthritis. However, there might be certain rules and restrictions, depending on the type of arthritis and the treatment considered.

While most types of insurance will cover routine medical visits and testing for arthritis, not all will cover experimental medications or surgery. Seniors dealing with Rheumatoid arthritis may need to discuss their treatment options with their insurance provider. Some medications, like immunosuppressants, may need first to be approved by the insurance company.

It is also a good idea to consider coverage and co-pays when signing up for physical therapy. The best way to avoid surprises or denied coverage is to discuss your arthritis treatment options with your insurance provider ahead of time.

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More Information to Know About Arthritis

  Types of Arthritis

It can be useful to understand the different types of arthritis when considering your treatment options. While there are over 100 different types of arthritis, the most common will include:

  • Osteoarthritis (OA): Osteoarthritis is one of the most common types of arthritis, especially in seniors. Osteoarthritis involves a deterioration of the bodies’ cartilage. As the cartilage wears away, the bones rub together, causing pain and inflammation. Osteoarthritis is one of the leading causes of disability in seniors.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis (RA): Rheumatoid arthritis is a form of an autoimmune disease that affects the joints. With RA, the bodies’ immune system attacks the joints, breaking down the cartilage and causing inflammation. While anyone can get RA at any age, there is a form of elderly-onset RA, which affects seniors between the ages of 60-65.
  • Reactive arthritis: Reactive arthritis is a reaction to an infection in another part of the body. With reactive arthritis, the body responds to the infection with inflammation.
  • Gout: a Gout is a form of arthritis that affects the joint spaces of the body. High levels of uric acid form in the connective tissues, leading to pain and inflammation. Gout is often brought on by poor dietary habits and high blood pressure. A high intake of alcohol consumption can also lead to Gout. This form of arthritis is found in the toes, ankles, hands, and wrists and most commonly affects the big toe.
  • Psoriatic arthritis: Psoriatic arthritis is a type of arthritis that affects the skin. This autoimmune disease is also common among seniors. It presents with flaky patches of red skin, as well as significant joint pain. Many seniors have dealt with the skin symptoms for many years before developing joint pain and, eventually, getting a diagnosis as psoriatic arthritis.

Understanding the type of arthritis that you are dealing with is important when evaluating your treatment and medication options. Fortunately, there are many options available that allow seniors to maintain an independent and happy lifestyle, even after they are diagnosed with arthritis.