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More Than Joint Pain: Understanding Seniors and Arthritis

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Mary, a 70 year old grandmother of three, describes what it’s like to live with osteoarthritis:

I’ve had nothing but pain for the last two months. It seems like each morning I wake up with some body part hurting that didn't hurt the day before. It’s frustrating… and so exhausting. Today is the first day I've felt human since I can hardly remember when.

As a senior care professional, you may be well aware that arthritis is more than achy joints, and coping with it involves more than exercise and medication. Like Mary, many seniors who suffer from arthritis not only feel the physical pain, but also experience the emotional stress of living a life limited by a chronic condition.

How can you help support and encourage your patients as they deal with the stress of living with arthritis pain? Here are 4 suggestions:

1. Do your homework.
Did you know osteoarthritis pain usually worsens at the end of the day? Or that arthritis causes more activity limitation in its patients than cancer, heart disease or diabetes? Understanding basic facts about arthritis, as well as the individual symptoms and needs of each patient, is key to understanding the challenges of those who suffer from this disease. Taking a moment to read about types and symptoms of arthritis, maintaining an open dialogue with other members of your senior’s care team, and asking the senior questions about his or her arthritis pain will help you in your efforts to provide excellent care.

2. Put yourself in their shoes.
If you suffered from chronic arthritis-related pain, how would that affect your ability to go about a normal day? What struggles would you encounter in daily chores such as cooking meals, running errands or maintaining your home? Imagining your own life with arthritis can help you understand how everyday tasks can become painful challenges. As your senior discovers his or her problem areas, consider ways you can help provide solutions. Perhaps a home helper is in order or other non-medical services such as assistance with transportation, personal care, meal preparation or medication management.

3. Recommend appropriate, accessible fitness programs.
Regular exercise including stretching, aerobics and strength training can help reduce fatigue and improve strength and flexibility, according to the Arthritis Foundation. Exercising through chronic pain, however, can be intimidating for many senior arthritis sufferers. Encourage physical activity by helping the senior investigate programs at local fitness or community centers where he or she can exercise in a group setting with other seniors. Or, consider directing seniors and their family members to a resource like Get Mom Moving, an online program designed to keep seniors active in ways they enjoy most.

4. Be an encourager!
Make sure your senior patients know they are not alone. When you run across a program or piece of information they may find helpful, give them a call or drop it in the mail to them. When you see them, ask direct but gentle questions about their arthritis pain and how it affects their day-to-day activities. Simple gestures like these may not seem significant, but they communicate that the daily challenges facing your senior patient have not gone overlooked. Above all, encourage them to keep going, even in the toughest times.

This arthritis sufferer says it best: “Living with this disease is really hard. There have been days I’ve wanted to give up - just become part of my couch - but I don't. I fight through the pain, pinching and discomfort every day. If I give up, the arthritis wins; and who wants to lose to arthritis?”

Last revised: April 17, 2014

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Thoughts and stories from others
  1. June 5, 2014 at 11:16 pm | Posted by Carol Dolman

    I have inflammatory Arthritis and Spondylosis of the spine, also osteoporosis. My worse pain is from the spine which causes referred pain and/or nerve pain into my ribs, chest, neck and the back of my legs. I currently use Tylenol Arthritis for the pain as I cannot tolerate pain pills. Needless to say my pain is not controlled and the cost of trying other pain pills can be very expensive. I would like to know if there is anyone else who has this same type of arthritis, and what they may be doing to control pain, and how they are managing the stress, and daily exhaustion of this type of arthritis.


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