Managing Arthritis for Seniors

Arthritis is a common problem among seniors, with 47% of people over the age of 65 suffering from this painful condition (1). Arthritis is the leading cause of disability in the United States (2), as joint inflammation and swelling can make any physical activity difficult and uncomfortable, and may even prevent you from doing the things you love. Thankfully, there are many ways to treat and manage arthritis. Keep reading for more information and options on managing arthritis for seniors so you can continue to live the life you love.


What is Arthritis?

Arthritis isn’t a specific disease, but is actually a broad term for any kind of joint pain and swelling. Though there are many types of arthritis, two main types account for the vast majority of cases: osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Both types cause joint pain and swelling, which may get worse with age. Both types also mean that joints don’t bend or stretch as well as they used to, which makes movement painful and sometimes impossible.  


Osteoarthritis happens when the cartilage that covers the ends of joints breaks down. If it wears down entirely, it will cause the bones to rub directly against each other, causing pain and swelling. Current research suggests that osteoarthritis may also include bone weakening and inflammation (3). 

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease in which your immune system mistakenly attacks the synovial membrane, which wraps around the entire joint (4). This lining becomes inflamed and irritated. Over time, this causes damage to the bone and cartilage within the joint.  


How to Treat Osteoarthritis 

Osteoarthritis, which is a breakdown of the cartilage covering the ends of the joints, can be progressive, meaning it could get worse with age. For this reason, it’s best to be diagnosed as early as possible, so you can begin treatment and make lifestyle changes if necessary.  If you have joint pain or swelling, see your doctor right away. With treatment, it’s possible to keep your osteoarthritis from getting worse and maintain your quality of life.


You can manage osteoarthritis with lifestyle changes, medication, and supportive therapies. Exercise is an important way you can treat osteoarthritis. As long as you exercise appropriately, building up muscle strength will also strengthen your joints. It can also lead to weight loss, reduced stress, and improved posture, which can all help with arthritis too. Make sure you talk to your doctor and preferably also a physical therapist about the exercise routine that is best for you.


Pain and anti-inflammatory medications may be used to make osteoarthritis more bearable. Steroid injections can also help. Additionally, there are lots of supportive therapies and devices that can ease pain and increase your range of motion. For example, you might try hot or cold packs, special shoes or insoles, a cane or walker, or physical therapy.


If nothing else has worked, surgery or joint replacement might be necessary. There are a variety of surgical options available that you can discuss with your doctor. 


How Rheumatoid Arthritis is Treated


Rheumatoid arthritis can be harder to diagnose, because in the beginning stages it behaves much like other autoimmune diseases. Regular checkups and communication with your doctor can help you be diagnosed earlier, which will make this disease easier to treat. Rheumatoid arthritis can’t be cured, but it can go into remission, when you won’t experience symptoms.


The best course of treatment is with disease-modifying anti rheumatic drugs (DMARDs). They can slow down rheumatoid arthritis and prevent more joints from being affected over time. New versions and types of DMARDs are being developed continuously. However, these drugs do have side effects, so this medication needs to be carefully monitored and controlled by your doctor. 


As with osteoarthritis, physical therapy and lifestyle changes can help. Specific exercises can keep your joints flexible. Supportive devices, like ergonomic knife handles, might make some things easier if you struggle with specific tasks. 


Surgery might also be an option with rheumatoid arthritis. You can have surgery to remove the infected synovial membrane, repair tendons, or fuse or entirely replace the affected joint. 


How To Manage Your Arthritis


With both types of arthritis, there are things you can do to slow the disease or put it into remission and improve your quality of life. Since inflammation plays a part in both types, try eating anti-inflammatory foods, like:

  • tomatoes
  • olive oil
  • green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, kale, and collards
  • nuts like almonds and walnuts
  • fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, tuna, and sardines
  • fruits such as strawberries, blueberries, cherries, and oranges 


As we previously mentioned, exercise plays an important role in managing arthritis too. Low-impact exercise like swimming or water aerobics, yoga, or tai chi might be great choices that are easy on the joints. Make sure you talk with your medical team about how much exercise to do and what types will be most beneficial. A physical therapist can provide you with expert guidance in this area. 


A healthy diet and regular exercise will allow you to maintain your weight or potentially lose weight, which can be beneficial by reducing the strain and pressure on your joints. Healthy eating and exercise are also super beneficial for your mental health, and when your brain is happy, you’ll feel better in your body too. 


Lastly, make sure you see your doctor regularly to monitor the progression of your arthritis. This will allow you to stay on top of any necessary medications and help you prevent permanent damage to your joints. 


Armed with this knowledge and these tips on managing arthritis for seniors, you’ll be able to live a happy and healthy life even with osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis. If you need more help with mobility and daily activities in the future, senior living could be a good choice to help you live your best life. Considering senior living? Tour a Stellar Living community near you.