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ARTHRITIS IN THE ELDERLY

Arthritis is inflamed joints or stiff joints. There are many types of arthritis the most common being osteoarthritis, which is a problem of wear and tear due to excessive use over the years, compounded by old injuries in the affected joints. Many cases of arthritis are mild, and people live normal lives 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).

What are the symptoms of osteoarthritis?

  • Pain, swelling or stiffness in one or more joints, including the back or neck.

  • Pain and stiffness after heavy activity such as gardening, housework or long walks.

  • Pain or stiffness on getting up in the mornings; light activity might actually relieve some of the symptoms.

  • Painful limp in cases involving the hip and knee.

Which joints are affected?

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. It can affect the left, right or both sides of the body.

What is the treatment?

There is no cure, but there are many effective strategies to make life more comfortable and for you to maintain your mobility and independence.

Diet

Keeping your weight down will reduce unnecessary wear and tear on joints. No particular diet has been proved to cause, or improve, osteoarthritis.

Exercise

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

Heat

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

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

Walking aids

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

Medication

Paracetamol can be effective and safe painkillers in mild cases. If pain continues, doctors may consider alternative medications called non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen or naproxen. Prolonged use of these medications is discouraged, and they should be taken with food as these drugs may have side effects in the stomach or intestine. Inform your doctor if you have had a peptic ulcer or get indigestion. There are also newer drugs that are kinder to your stomach. Some people find over-the-counter remedies such as glucosamine can help ...

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