Arthritis care: Is there a cure for arthritis in the elderly?
Arthritis is one of the most common conditions in the UK, with half of those aged over 65 experiencing symptoms. These can range from mild aches and pains that dissipate with exercise and gentle movement to chronic and severe pain and swelling.
If your loved one is living with arthritis, unfortunately, there is no cure as of yet. However, there are a range of treatments including medication, lifestyle changes and therapies that can slow its progress and minimise joint damage.
Understanding what causes arthritis and the most common symptoms can help your loved one to manage the pain and find the right treatment when they’re receiving home care.
Most common forms of arthritis
This is the most common form of arthritis in older people and currently affects around 9 million people in the UK. It generally begins to affect adults from their mid-40s.
OA affects the smooth cartilage that acts as a buffer between the bones in a joint. Once this becomes worn, the tendons are forced to work harder to retain movement. It commonly affects the hands, knees, spine and hips, causing stiffness that is alleviated by moving the joint.
Osteoarthritis in the hands and hips may run in families, while osteoarthritis in the knees is often associated with being overweight or overuse of the joints.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an immune deficiency disease. That means the body’s immune system attacks the lining of the joint, causing it to swell and become painful.
Rheumatoid arthritis can affect any joint in the body and is often accompanied by tiredness and fever. It not only affects joints but can also have an impact on other organs and tissues.
Around 400,000 people in the UK are living with rheumatoid arthritis, the majority of whom are women.
This specific form of arthritis is most commonly associated with the big toe, but it can affect other joints causing swelling, tenderness and redness.
Gout is caused by the formation of uric acid crystals within the spaces in the joints. It’s associated with certain foods, including shellfish, liver and anchovies, alcohol use, and being overweight. A gout attack is one of the most painful types of arthritis.
Arthritis symptoms and diagnosis
It’s essential to get an accurate diagnosis if you believe that your loved one requires arthritis care.
Common symptoms can include:
- Joint pain, swelling and stiffness
- Inflammation of the joints
- Joints that feel tender to the touch
- Restricted joint movement
- Joints that look red and feel warm
If your loved one receives live-in care, then their carer should arrange a doctor’s appointment if the symptoms persist beyond two weeks. However, if there’s any prolonged pain or fever, an appointment should be made as soon as possible.
Depending on the type of arthritis, your loved one may also need blood, urine or joint fluid tests. They may also require X-rays, an ultrasound or an MRI scan. Anyone receiving dementia care may need additional support during this time.
Arthritis care and treatment
While there is currently no cure for arthritis, there are several treatments that can control the symptoms and improve joint movement. There’s no one size fits all solution so your loved one and their carer may need to try a range of treatments to see what works best for their symptoms.
The most commonly used medications are:
- Painkillers can reduce pain but not inflammation. Over-the-counter remedies might be effective, or a doctor may prescribe an opioid for more prolonged and severe pain, although these carry a risk of dependence.
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can reduce pain and inflammation and include ibuprofen available in tablet, gel or cream form.
- Corticosteroids are available orally or injected directly into the joint. They suppress the immune system and reduce inflammation.
- Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) are used in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis to slow the immune system and stop it from attacking the joints. This type of medication is often used with biological response modifiers.
- Pain pumps or nerve blocks are used for pain in the spine caused by osteoarthritis and offer longer-term pain relief.
If your loved one is receiving private care, they should try treating symptoms of osteoarthritis with lifestyle changes, including:
- Regular exercise including aerobics, swimming and cycling
- Healthy eating and weight reduction
- Specially adapted footwear
- Heated pads to try relieve pain
- Use of aids such as walkers and raised toilet seats to reduce joint strain during daily activities
If your loved one is receiving regular elderly care and support, they may also wish to try alternative therapies and remedies for medication-free arthritis care and pain control.
Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS): A TENS machine uses electrical stimulation to interrupt the feeling of pain. This type of alternative therapy can be an effective form of pain relief but isn’t suitable for those with pacemakers, infections or open wounds.
Meditation: Regular meditation is a risk-free way of dealing with pain by using deep relaxation techniques.
Acupuncture: Needles are placed under the skin so that the body can release pain-killing endorphins. Acupressure achieves the same effect by applying pressure and is more suitable for those using blood thinners.
Peripheral nerve stimulation: This uses a transplant to deliver pain relief in the same way as a TENS machine. The low-risk procedure is suitable for low back pain caused by osteoarthritis.
Yoga and Tai Chi: The slow stretching movements can improve movement and joint flexibility.
Massages: These increase the flow of blood to the painful joints and can bring temporary pain relief
If other measures don’t help, your loved one’s doctor may suggest joint repair, joint replacement or joint fusion.
Good arthritis care involves a range of treatments, including medication, lifestyle changes and different therapies that can slow the condition’s progress.
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