What is arthritis and how can you help your loved one who has it?

In this post, I will go over what arthritis is and what you can do as a caregiver to help.

Arthritis Definition

Arthritis involves the break down of cartilage.

Cartilage is the cushion-like substance that is found at the joints of two bones.

It prevents bones from rubbing against each other and causing pain or even damage of the bones.

Cartilage also allows bones to bend with ease.

In arthritis, cartilage breaks down. This causes swelling and a lot of pain.

This can happen for a number of reasons, including;

  1. An autoimmune disease. A disease is “autoimmune” when the immune system of the person (which is supposed to protect against invaders) begins to attack the person’s normal tissue. In this case, the immune system causes the wearing of cartilage.
  2. Arthritis can also be caused by infection with bacteria or viruses.
  3. A broken bone can lead to arthritis.
  4. General “wear” and “tear” on bones due to old age can also result in arthritis.

The risk for arthritis is higher in women than in men.

Arthritis affects 1 in 4 Americans and is one of the most common chronic conditions in the US.

Signs and symptoms of arthritis

  1. Swelling around the joints
  2. Pain with the swelling
  3. Stiffness
  4. Trouble moving around
  5. Fever
  6. Rash or itch
  7. Breathing problems

What you can do as a caregiver to help

Thankfully, there is a lot of research that has gone into studying arthritis and so there are medications and lifestyle changes a person can make that will help them continue to live a productive life with arthritis.

As a caregiver, you can;

  1. If your loved one complains about stiffness and increased pain in the joints, don’t just dismiss it as “old age”. See a doctor about a possible arthritis diagnosis.
  2. Help your elderly loved one stick with their medication regimen.
  3. Because movement can be difficult for people with arthritis, it is helpful to ensure a safe environment at home to prevent falls and injuries.
  4. Ironically, exercise will still help people with arthritis reduce inflammation. Thus as a caregiver, you can encourage movement that doesn’t put too much pressure on the joints. **Please consult with your doctor for the best ideas on exercise regimens for your loved one with arthritis. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) also have evidence-based guidelines on exercises that people with arthritis. You can check those recommendations out here. 
  5. Encourage a healthy diet.
  6. If you are encouraging a healthy, balanced diet along with moderate exercise, it will help with weight loss. Obesity can have a negative effect on arthritis.
  7. Pain management. People with arthritis live with a lot of pain. Apart from pain medication, there are several other ways to deal with pain. Hot water therapy for instance is helpful in dealing with painful joints. Thus your loved one may find a session in a hot tub helpful. Other non-pharmacologic ways to deal with pain include;
    • Massage
    • Ice/hot packs
    • Physical therapy
  8. Genes play an important role in arthritis. If you have relatives who have had arthritis, your risk for arthritis is higher. Therefore engaging in moderate exercise, eating a healthy diet that is important in preventing severe symptoms of the disease that would occur if you did nothing at all.

Closing Thoughts

Arthritis affects over 50 million Americans each year.

It is a painful disease that affects more women and the risk increases with age.

Although, there is no known cure, arthritis can be successfully managed so that the person affected lives a productive life.

As a caregiver, you can do a lot to help your elderly loved one with arthritis live productively. It starts with the tips shared in this post.

One of the most important things you can do as a caregiver is to learn what works for their particular case.

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