Arthritis Among Elderly Population

January 23, 2013

Arthritis is a chronic disease that is the main cause of disabilities in the elderly population.  It is a form of joint disorder that involves inflammation of one or more joints. It causes a lot of pain and restricts movements and can affect joints in any part of the body. It also accompanies swelling and stiffness that results from infection, trauma, or metabolic disturbances.

With the aging of the baby boomers, by 2050 the US elderly population is likely to increase to 22%. As the elderly are more susceptible to chronic conditions such as diabetes, hypertension and heart disease, they are also more likely to suffer from rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and osteoarthritis (OA) as compared to younger generations.

Comparison of Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis

Arthritis can result in chronic pain and hence can often lead to depression and sleep disturbances, not to mention astronomical healthcare costs. Managing arthritis and choosing an appropriate therapy regimen are complicated factors that can be really challenging for the elderly. Apart from this, there are variables like consumption of multiple drugs, presence of multiple diseases, and drug interactions that can hinder achieving good therapeutic outcomes.

Rheumatoid Arthritis: Rheumatoid arthritis, a chronic autoimmune disease, is an inflammatory form of arthritis that causes joint destruction, pain, swelling, and stiffness.  It targets the immune system that protects our bodies by attacking foreign cells like bacteria or viruses.  As a result, fluid builds up in the joints causing pain and inflammation throughout the body. The progressive deterioration of the joints can lead to permanent damage and deformity and is a common cause of disability.  However, the underlying cause of this autoimmune disorder is unknown.

The symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis usually strike when the patient is aged between 40 and 60. The disease is more common in women than in men. In addition to swelling and stiffness, there can be bilateral pain in the feet, hands, and wrists. Pain also can develop in other areas, such as the hips, knees, shoulders, and neck. Because RA affects the whole body, other symptoms such as fever, weight loss, fatigue, and loss of appetite may also be present.

Osteoarthritis: Osteoarthritis, another common form of arthritis, is a joint disease that affects people over the age of 60. It is often associated with pain, limitation of motion, and disability, usually affecting the weight bearing joints.  Unlike rheumatoid arthritis, there is no specific test for osteoarthritis. It generally affects only the joints and not any other internal organ. In America, loss of joint function due to osteoarthritis is a major cause of work disability that can lead to a reduced quality of life.  It costs the country almost $128 billion annually in medical care and indirect expenses.

The table pictured above compares rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.

How to manage arthritis?

A person can not cure his/her arthritis but there are several ways one can manage the pain and lead a normal life. One of the simplest methods to limit arthritis pain is to apply a cold pack to an inflamed joint, which can help reduce pain and swelling by numbing the area. Walking is an ideal exercise for people with arthritis. Also, many studies have shown that the gentle Chinese martial art of Tai Chi can ease osteoarthritis.  In 2009, several clinical studies linked high body mass index with rapid loss of knee cartilage and proposed that losing a few pounds can benefit the joints.

The omega-3 fatty acids in oily, cold-water fish (like salmon, sardines, herring and black cod) may reduce inflammation related to osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Doctors also recommend using extra-virgin olive oil, with monounsaturated fat, for primary cooking instead of other vegetable oils with polyunsaturated fat. Breathing exercises and meditation can additionally ease the stress of contending with osteoarthritis. A new study of people with knee osteoarthritis suggests that flat, flexible shoes are best for reducing the load or stress placed on the knee when walking.

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