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Arthritis in the elderly

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Arthritis in the elderly (Downloadable resource)

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Arthritis means inflamed joints, and there are many types of arthritis. The most common type is osteoarthritis, which is a problem of wear and tear due to excessive use over the years and to old injuries in the affected joints. Most cases of arthritis are mild, and people cope with it. Arthritis does not necessarily get worse as you get older; sometimes it can get less painful (arthritis in the lumbar spine is a good example of this).

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What are the symptoms of osteoarthritis?
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  • Pain, swelling or stiffness in one or more joints

  • Pain or stiffness in the back or neck

  • Pain and stiffness after heavy activity such as gardening or housework or long walks and on getting up in the mornings; light activity might actually relieve some of the symptoms

  • Painful limp in the case of the hip and knee

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Which joints are affected?
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Osteoarthritis mostly affects the weight-bearing joints such as the spine, knees and hips. The base of the thumb, the ends of the fingers and the big toes are also common sites.

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What is the treatment?
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There is no cure, but there are many ways to make life more comfortable and keep you mobile and independent.

++ Diet
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Keep your weight down to avoid unnecessary wear on the joints. No particular diet has been proved to cause, or improve, osteoarthritis.

++ Exercise
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Keep a good balance of adequate rest with sensible exercise (such as walking, cycling and swimming), but stop any exercise or activity that increases the pain.

++ Heat
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It is usual to feel more comfortable when the weather is warm. A hot-water bottle, warm bath or electric blanket can soothe the pain and stiffness. Avoid getting too cold.

++ Physiotherapy
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This can be most helpful in improving muscle tone, reducing stiffness and keeping you mobile.

++ Walking aids
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Shoe inserts, good footwear and a walking stick can help painful knees, hips and feet.

++ Medication
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Paracetamol can be an effective painkiller in mild cases. If pain continues, doctors may recommend a group of drugs called non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen or naproxen. They should be taken with food. These drugs may have side effects in the stomach or intestine, so inform your doctor if you have had a peptic ulcer or get indigestion. There are new drugs that are kinder to your stomach. Some people find over-the-counter remedies such as glucosamine can help bring relief. Consult your doctor to find the right medication for you.

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