Osteoarthritis affects over 32.5 million Americans. The condition, which is primarily associated with aging, is the most common form of arthritis. It develops as a result of wear and tear of the protective cartilage and tissues at the ends of bones and joints. Women and those who are overweight are usually at a higher risk of developing the condition. It’s also common after a joint injury. Early detection and appropriate care are essential to maintaining a person’s quality of life. But, how exactly can it impact a senior’s quality of life?
1 – Impaired Mobility
Joint pain is the defining symptom of osteoarthritis; and, simply put – it can hurt to move! This is particularly true when dealing with lower limbs, like the knee or the hips. Pain in the affected area can also reduce the range of joint movement. This is especially true because of increased stiffness after periods of rest. Over 80 percent of osteoarthritis patients experience trouble performing everyday activities and tasks. This means that osteoarthritis can impair your ability to do normal things like dusting or vacuuming.
2 – Increased Fall Risk
Falls can be particularly worrisome for seniors anyway. Well, add a diagnosis of osteoarthritis, and that risk goes way up! Knee and hip osteoarthritis are of particular concern here. A study published in the journal Arthritis Care and Research found that the risk of a senior falling was measurably higher, depending on the number of symptomatic lower limb joints. With a single symptomatic joint, the risk was measured at 53 percent, while it was 85 percent with 3 to 4 affected joints.
3 – Loss of Independence
The pain and reduced mobility associated with osteoarthritis can be severe enough to make just about anything difficult. Tasks that were once easy like cooking, cleaning, or picking up groceries might now exacerbate joint pain and swelling. This can be frustrating and quite disheartening for seniors who have lived independent lives. With increased dependence on family members or caregivers may come feelings of helplessness. For some, osteoarthritis can also mean a loss of livelihood or earning capacity.
4 – Reduced Sleep Quality
Sleep quality often declines with age, but those suffering from arthritis may lose even more rest! Experts often suggest home care strategies like meditation, yoga, and acupuncture to relax.
5 – Weight Gain
Those who suffer from osteoarthritis are less likely to be physically active; because, well, it hurts to move! Painful symptoms and a reduced range of movement can lead to lots of time spent not getting the physical activity your body needs to thrive. Unfortunately, a sedentary lifestyle has been proven to exacerbate osteoarthritis symptoms in terms of both severity and frequency. The effects of being physically inactive are even more striking in seniors. In addition to accelerating muscle atrophy, reduced physical activity causes weight gain, which can create other complications.
6 – Social Isolation
Reduced mobility doesn’t just hurt your ability to work around the house. It can restrict your ability (and desire) to go out and socialize. People thrive on companionship and contact with others, so this is kind of a big deal! Social support is also important for coping with illness. Many who suffer from severe osteoarthritis are socially withdrawn and have limited interaction because of painful and unpredictable symptoms. This can also greatly increase the risk of other mental health problems.
Coping with Osteoarthritis
Once you accept and understand the manner in which osteoarthritis can impair your quality of life, you can take steps to prepare for the worst-case scenario. Like other degenerative conditions, osteoarthritis will worsen if not managed. Many seniors continue to live healthy and active lives despite osteoarthritis!
Balanced nutrition and adequate physical activity are critical to maintaining both physical and mental health, especially when you suffer from a chronic pain disorder. In addition to strengthening the muscles and helping avoid weight gain, healthy nutrition and exercise can reduce inflammation and improve pain tolerance. Exercise can also lower the risk of depression and anxiety!
And, of course, it’s important to seek medical care and follow the treatment as directed! Although there is no known cure for osteoarthritis, medication can provide relief from symptoms and even slow its progression. Physical therapy may be vital as it can improve and preserve mobility. You can also try alternative therapies like yoga, acupuncture, and tai chi in order to help preserve physical and mental health.
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