While arthritis is common among older adults, it is not a normal part of aging. Arthritis impacts 54 million adults today, and that number is expected to grow to 78 million by 2040.
Over 100 different types of arthritis might affect an aging adult, with osteoarthritis (OA) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA) being the two most common ones. Any type of arthritis can affect a person’s quality of life and ability to live independently, so it pays to talk to your loved one’s healthcare provider about possible treatments to improve your relative’s health and wellbeing.
Common Types of Arthritis
Osteoarthritis is very common and results from wear-and-tear on the joints. OA can occur in any joint, but it most often affects the hands and weight-bearing joints such as the knee, hip and spinal joints. OA symptoms often develop slowly and worsen over time.
Rheumatoid Arthritis is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks tissue in the joints, causing inflammation.
Any type of arthritis causes pain, stiffness and inflammation of the joints. These effects can make it difficult to move around or perform activities of daily living, such as showering and dressing. Severe arthritis even can contribute to falling.
Arthritis of any kind benefits from early diagnosis and treatment. Your loved one’s healthcare provider may manage this care themselves or may refer you to a specialist.
As a caregiver, you also can take steps to help your loved one live with arthritis.
Tips for Family caregivers to help manage an older adult’s arthritis:
Listen and be empathetic.
Take their concerns seriously and communicate with them to their healthcare provider, especially if there hasn’t been a diagnosis and symptoms are present.
Keep a journal of symptoms.
Family caregivers can help track when and where pain occurs. They can also help to track medications taken, foods eaten and activity or movement. This information can help identify patterns and provide valuable information to healthcare professionals. The Arthritis Foundation has an app that helps track symptoms and patterns.
Communicate with healthcare providers.
Often multiple healthcare providers care for older adults. The family caregiver can help keep communication consistent among all of them, which helps ensure everyone is on the same page and the person with arthritis is getting the medical care needed.
Encourage movement and regular exercise.
Seek out exercise or movement classes. The Arthritis Foundation has several great tools to help with this including the Walk with Ease Program and Your Exercise Solution. Even small amounts of movement throughout the day can add up and significantly improve a person’s symptoms. Some ideas include laps around the house (indoors and outdoors), chair exercises and stretching. Be sure to consult the older adult’s healthcare provider before introducing exercise into the routine.
Assist with medication and treatment management.
Arthritis is often treatable with medication and other remedies. Family caregivers can help ensure the treatment plans are being followed. Below are additional tips for medication management:
- Ask the pharmacist for an upside-down cap.
- Use a pill popper device for over-the-counter medications that come in foil packaging.
- Look into a prepackaged medication management system that has easy to open packaging such as Simple Meds.
Assist with a well-balanced diet.
For some people, the food they eat can impact their arthritis. Caregivers can prepare arthritis-friendly foods for their aging loved one and encourage them to eat a well-balanced diet. Learn more about arthritis diets.
Encourage weight loss if needed.
Family caregivers can assist their loved one in managing their weight. Excess weight can cause additional strain on weight-bearing joints such as hips and knees. Reduce body weight if needed and consult with a doctor about weight loss. Even a ten percent reduction can be helpful.
Hire professional help.
It is important for family caregivers to help their loved one maintain as much independence as possible. For some, it can be helpful to enlist the assistance of a professional. An Occupational Therapist can offer ideas to remain independent and keep as much functionality as possible. Professional home care can assist with tasks that are more challenging due to arthritis such as meal preparation, light housekeeping and medication management.
Arthritis symptoms can sometimes cause an older adult to be discouraged by what they can no longer do. Family caregivers should remain positive and keep the focus on what their loved one can still do.
Find creative solutions. There are many arthritis-friendly products that can make life easier. Below are some examples of creative solutions for various parts of the daily routine:
- Foam handles and arthritis-friendly utensils.
- Sit while chopping and preparing foods to reduce fatigue.
- Use adaptive cutting boards to stabilize foods.
- Utilize a crockpot for easy one pot meals.
- Hire a home care company to assist with advanced meal preparation.
- For boiling foods, utilize portion control strainers that can be left in the pot while cooking and that drain the water when the strainer is lifted out. This eliminates the need to carry a boiling pot of water to the sink.
Dressing and grooming
- Install grab bars in shower, bathtub and around the toilet.
- Toilet seat risers can help reduce the effort needed to sit down and stand up.
- Automatic dispensers or pumps for grooming products help reduce the need to squeeze bottles.
- Seek out adaptive grooming products with special grips and handles.
- Button hooks can help with small buttons or velcro can be used to replace buttons all together.
- Sock aids and long-handled shoehorns can help with footwear.
- Card and game holders can help reduce fatigue while playing.
- Gripping tools on small items (ex: tennis ball on paint brush) can help maintain independence.
- Adaptive gardening tools can help make gardening more accessible.
Family caregivers play a vital role in helping their aging loved ones cope with the effects of arthritis and maintain their independence at home. Coordinating the older adult’s medical care, encouraging physical activity and helping with household tasks can help your relative stay safe and well at home despite the challenges of arthritis.