Arthritis affects more than 50 million Americans, making it the leading cause of disability in the country.

Rheumatoid ArthritisWhat is arthritis? Actually, it’s an umbrella term, covering a number of different conditions that affect the joints. The two most common are osteoarthritis, where the cartilage that covers the ends of the bones and provides cushioning begins to break down, and rheumatoid arthritis, which is a chronic inflammation triggered by a faulty immune system that affects the lining of the joints and other organs like the skin, eyes, lung, heart and blood vessels. Other arthritis-related conditions frequently found in older adults are fibromyalgia, gout and osteoporosis.

Arthritis may cause constant pain, or it may come and go. In either case, it can make it difficult to perform many of the activities of daily living (such as dressing, cleaning, or even feeding).

With May being National Arthritis Month, now is a good time to discuss what you can do if you have elderly loved ones who suffer from arthritis.

Here are some tips:

  • Speak to a physician about possible pain medication, should it become necessary. This can range from steroids to over-the-counter drugs for counteracting pain and controlling inflammation.
  • Help them maintain their weight by putting together healthy exercise and eating plans as excess weight can put more pressure on weight-bearing joints and increase pain. Activities like walking, swimming, water aerobics and yoga can reduce joint pain and improve flexibility, balance and strength. In terms of diet, reduce their consumption of processed foods, red meat and sugary drinks and make sure they eat plenty of vegetables, fresh fruit, whole grains and lean protein (e.g. beans, poultry and fish).
  • Look into physical and occupational therapy. A physical therapist can offer range-of-motion exercises that will make it easier for loved ones to use their joints and strength training that will enhance muscle strength. An occupational therapist can suggest modifications at home that will help make tasks easier and safer.
  • Try massage as a way to reduce pain and stiffness and improve range of motion and joint function.
  • Use heat and cold to stimulate the affected area. Heat treatments, such as heating pads or warm baths, work best for soothing stiff joints and tired muscles by enhancing circulation. This, in turn, delivers nutrients to joints and muscles. It helps get the body limber and ready for exercise or activity. Cold works for acute pain by reducing blood vessels, slowing circulation and decreasing swelling. By numbing nerve endings, it dulls pain.
  • Be positive. It’s easy for one to become depressed when they hurt and/or cannot do tasks they once took for granted. Having the right attitude can make a world of difference.