Living at Home with Arthritis

Nurse with woman in wheelchair at home

May is National Arthritis Awareness Month. According to the Arthritis Foundation, 50 million Americans are living with arthritis today, and almost half of those people are dealing with challenges to their daily activities.

Arthritis is a degenerative disease of the joints. It is actually not just one disease, but is a group of over 100 different conditions, all of which can cause pain, swelling and an interference with normal movement.

Arthritis is the most common disease in people over the age of 65, and approximately half of the population of that age has some form of the condition. Some types of arthritis are thought to be hereditary; some result from overuse or injury of a joint, or from years of "wear of tear"; some types are caused by infection; and still others are caused by a malfunction of the immune system. Arthritis may affect only one joint, or many joints at the same time. The joints most commonly affected are the weight-bearing joints, such as the hips and knees, and also the smaller joints of the hands and neck.

The two most common forms of arthritis in older adults are: osteoarthritis, which is caused by a breakdown of the cartilage and other tissues of the affected joint; and rheumatoid arthritis, an inflammation of the joint linings caused by a disorder in the immune system. Other forms of arthritis include gout, a condition caused by excess uric acid in the joints; ankylosing spondylitis, a chronic inflammatory disease which can result in rigidity of the spine; and psoriatic arthritis, which occurs in people with the skin condition psoriasis.

Although there is usually no cure for arthritis, the pain and inflammation can be reduced by a variety of medical treatments. If your loved one has arthritis, appropriate treatment can often result in great improvement to his or her condition, as well as preventing further damage. Treatment depends on the type and degree of the condition:

  • Analgesic and anti-inflammatory medications relieve pain and reduce inflammation, or both. Aspirin or ibuprofen are often prescribed for both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Alternative pain relievers such as corticosteroids, acetaminophen and topical ointments or rubs are also prescribed, depending on the type and severity of a patient's arthritis.
  • Exercise and rest are both important. People with arthritis tire more easily; the physician may also order rest of a painful joint. But it is just as important to remain active. Exercise helps strengthen the muscles surrounding affected joints, protecting them from further stress. It also increases blood flow to and lubrication of the joint, and helps keep the joint strong and mobile, preventing loss of function. A physician-prescribed exercise program will usually include range-of-motion, strengthening and aerobic exercises.
  • Physical therapy benefits many arthritis patients and can include heat or cold treatments; whirlpool and massage; splinting to immobilize and rest a joint; and training in performing exercises to loosen and build up joints and surrounding muscles.
  • Occupational therapists help patients achieve the greatest level of independence possible by providing instruction in alternative ways of performing the activities of daily living and self-care. They can also evaluate the home environment to suggest any necessary adaptations, such as grab bars or a raised toilet seat.
  • Adaptive devices can make living with arthritis easier. Occupational therapists instruct arthritis patients in the use of mobility aids that lessen the stress on joints, such as canes and walkers. For arthritis in the shoulder or hand, long-handled spoons, zipper pulls, built-up toothbrush handles and page turners make the activities of daily living easier.
  • Surgery may be the best choice if arthritis is causing severe pain and lost joint function. Some surgical procedures repair or remove damaged tissue. Joint replacement is becoming more and more common, and most patients experience excellent results from an artificial hip or knee.

Home Care Supports Independence and Well-Being

When a senior has painful arthritis, family members often worry that their loved one is not safe living at home. They wonder: is Mom taking her medications correctly, and following other treatment instructions? Is she getting as much exercise as the doctor recommends? Is she getting out less because of her reduced mobility? Family may also be juggling job tasks and other family responsibilities, spending more and more time taking their loved one to doctor's appointments and helping with the housework and personal care.

Professional home care services can help your loved one manage arthritis in several important ways:

  • Assistance with the activities of daily living. Mobility limitations and painful joints make it hard to do some of the daily tasks most of us take for granted. In-home caregivers assist with housekeeping, transportation, laundry, personal care, and meal preparation.
  • Supporting physical activity. Exercise is a vital ingredient for managing arthritis. With home care, your loved one will feel more secure engaging in the activity program the healthcare provider has recommended. Whether it is a walk around the block, chair exercises or gardening, senior home care services provides an extra measure of confidence.
  • Transportation to healthcare appointments and prescribed activities. Physician appointments, water aerobics classes, physical therapy…your loved one's arthritis care schedule all seems to take place during the hours when most family members are at work. A trained in-home caregiver can ensure that your loved one gets to scheduled appointments on time.
  • Medication management. It is very important that your loved one takes medications at the right time, and in the correct way. An in-home aide can provide medication reminders, take your loved one to the pharmacy or pick up prescriptions, help organize medications, and report any side effects.
  • Fall protection. Arthritis is a top risk factor for senior falls. Removing clutter from pathways, mopping up spills promptly, performing potentially hazardous household tasks, "spotting" the person as he or she walks down the front stairs—in these and more ways, having an in-home caregiver close by can help prevent falls.
  • Care after joint replacement recovery. An in-home aide can also be of great help in caring for a loved one who is recovering from hip or knee replacement surgery. Complying with post-surgical instructions is one of the top predictors of success in these surgeries. In-home care helps the patient avoid dangerous motions that could compromise healing.

A trained, professional caregiver can help your loved one manage their arthritis, thereby maintaining the highest degree possible of independence and well-being. This provides welcome peace of mind for the arthritis patient and family alike!

For More Information

The Arthritis Foundation (www.arthritis.org) offers information and resources for people with arthritis and family caregivers.

The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (www.niams.nih.gov) is one of the National Institutes of Health. Their website offers extensive consumer information about arthritis and related conditions.

Source: Assisting Hands Home Care in association with IlluminAge. Copyright © IlluminAge, 2014.