Arthritis affects over half of everyone over the age of 65 and is the leading cause of disability in the U.S. Osteoarthritis, the most common type of arthritis, is simply a “wearing out” of the tissue of the joints. Arthritis is difficult for anyone to manage with symptoms such as joint stiffness, pain, tenderness, and swelling or redness around the joints.
Here are some tips that caregivers can use to help seniors deal with the challenges of arthritis.
Being overweight and leading a sedentary lifestyle are major contributors to worsening arthritis. Excessive joint movements can make arthritis feel worse but certain types of exercise may improve the condition. Exercise may also help the senior lose weight. Care should be taken to only do what is advised by a physician or physical therapist but moving the joints may help to reduce stiffness and make your charge more comfortable. Building up slowly while protecting sensitive joints will make exercise easier over time.
Simplify with Tools
There has been an amazing revolution in “self-help” tools. Originally developed for occupational therapy, there are literally hundreds of aids that can help those with arthritis cope with everyday life skills. In the kitchen, there are tools to assist with jar and bottle opening, hand tools with “ergonomic grips” that make peeling vegetables easier, and many small appliances that make cooking a good deal easier. Tools also exist to help seniors pull on socks, reach overhead and attend to personal care issues. A quick internet search will identify many physical aids.
Changing the Mindset
It’s difficult to adjust to a disability and while your senior loved one may not be “disabled,” arthritis can be painful. He may need to rethink the way he does things – they may need to accept additional help such as getting rides rather than walking, letting someone carry their groceries out at the store, or hiring someone to do the lawn. If necessary, a handicapped sticker for the car may be in order.
Dealing with the Pain
Most likely, the biggest issue your senior has with arthritis is the pain. Joints tend to feel cold and stiff in the morning but by evening, may be hot and painful. Periodic rest is necessary whenever physical activity is performed but they may also benefit from topical treatments. Additionally, some find relief from warm or cold compresses. Compresses should be limited to 15-minute increments. If their joints feel cold and stiff in the morning, a warm shower or bath or warm sheets may help at night.
Medication may be prescribed and should be taken as directed. Some caregivers, or the senior, may wish to “tough it out” but this is not advisable. Many of the medications given for arthritis treat not only the pain, but also reduce inflammation. Other pain medications may be given only for the pain but the senior should know that preventing pain is easier than treating it.
Consequently, medication should always be taken as prescribed.