Senior Citizens Rheumatoid Arthritis, Osteoarthritis, and Arthritis – Causes and Treatments by David Crumrine

“Arthritis” does not mean only that someone has stiff, aching joints. Many  types of arthritis exist, each with its own symptoms and treatments. Most types  are chronic, meaning that they can be a source of discomfort for an extended  period of time. Arthritis can afflict joints almost anywhere in the body and may  cause changes you can see and feel, including swelling, warmth, and redness in  the joints. It can last for a short time but be very painful or continue for a  long time with less pronounced results while still damaging the joints.

Arthritis is extremely common in the United States, especially among senior  citizens. Still, there are many steps they and those providing care for the  elderly can take to relieve the different types of arthritis. The most common  types in this population are osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and gout.

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Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common form of arthritis in senior citizens  and begins when cartilage, the type of tissue that pads joints, begins to wear  away. This can eventually cause all the cartilage between bones to wear away,  forming painful rubbing of bones against each other. This type of arthritis is  most common in the hands, neck, lower back, knees, and hips.

Symptoms of OA can range from stiffness and mild pain that accompanies  exercise or bending to severe pain in the joints even in times of physical rest.  OA can also cause stiffness during times in which you haven’t used specific  joints in a while, like when you’re on a long car ride, but this stiffness  usually goes away when you move your joints again. OA can eventually lead to  problems moving joints and sometimes to developing a disability if the areas  affected are the back, knees, or hips.

Aging is often the greatest risk factor for developing OA. Other factors  depend on the area of the body afflicted-for instance, OA in the hands or hips  may be caused by genetic factors; OA in the knees may be caused by being  overweight; and injuries or overuse of joints in the knees, hips, and hands may  lead to OA.

Rheumatoid arthritis.

Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) differs from OA in that it’s an autoimmune disease,  meaning that your immune system attacks and damages the lining of a joint as if  it were an injury or disease. RA leads to inflammation of the joints, which  causes pain, stiffness and swelling, sometimes in multiple joints at once. It  may be severe enough to prevent you from moving a certain joint. Senior citizens  with RA may often experience fatigue or fever. You can develop RA at any age,  and it’s more common in women.

RA can afflict almost any joint in the body and is often symmetrical, meaning  that if you have RA in a specific joint on one side of your body, you probably  experience RA in the same joint on the other side of your body. RA can damage  not only joints, but also the heart, muscles, blood vessels, nervous system, and  eyes.


Senior citizens with gout experience the most severe pain relative to many  other arthritis patients. An attack begins when uric acid crystals form in the  connective tissue or joint spaces, leading to swelling, stiffness, redness,  heat, and pain in the joint. Attacks often follow eating foods like shellfish,  liver, dried beans, peas, anchovies, or gravy. Drinking alcohol, being  overweight, and taking certain medications may worsen the symptoms. In senior  citizens, using certain medications to lower blood pressure may also be a risk  factor for a gout attack.

Gout is most common in the big toe, but it can occur in other joints such as  the ankle, elbow, knee, wrist, hand, or other toes. Swelling may cause  discoloration and tenderness due to skin stretching tightly around the joint. If  you see a doctor during an attack, he or she may take a sample of fluid from the  affected joint.

Other forms of arthritis.

Other forms include psoriatic arthritis  in patients who have psoriasis;  ankylosing spondylitis, which mainly affects the spine; reactive arthritis,  which occurs as a reaction to another illness in the body; and arthritis in the  temporomandibular joint, the point at which the jaw attaches to the skull.

Arthritis Symptoms and Warning Signs.

Senior citizens and those providing their elder care should look out for the  following symptoms as they may be indications of arthritis:

  • lasting joint pain
  • swelling in a joint
  • stiffness in a joint
  • tenderness or pain when touching a joint
  • difficulty in using or moving a joint normally
  • warmth and redness in a joint


Any of these symptoms lasting longer than two weeks should be addressed by a  physician. If you experience a fever, feel physically ill, have a suddenly  swollen joint, or have problems using a joint, a doctor should be contacted  sooner. You will have to answer questions and go through a physical exam. Before  suggesting treatment options, your doctor may want to run lab tests and take  X-rays.

Arthritis Treatment.

Some common treatment options exist even though each type of arthritis is  treatedsomewhat differently. Rest, exercise, eating a healthy diet, and becoming  educated about the right way to use and protect the joints are key to minimizing  the effects of arthritis. Proper shoes and a cane can minimize pain the feet,  knees, and hips while walking, and some technology exists for helping open jars  or bottles, turn doorknobs more easily, and otherwise improve quality of life in  senior citizens with arthritis.

Additionally, some medications can lower the pain and swelling. Acetaminophen  (in Tylenol) and some NSAIDs are sold over-the-counter and can ease pain. Other  NSAIDs must be prescribed. It is important for senior citizens and those  providing their in home care to pay attention to the warnings on both prescribed  and over-the-counter drugs and to ask a doctor about how to properly and best  use over-the-counter medicine to treat arthritis. The FDA also has information  about many medications.

Some treatment options are specialized for individual types of arthritis.

Osteoarthritis Treatment.

There are medicines to help senior citizens with pain associated with OA, and  rest and exercise may ease movement in the joints. Managing weight is also  important. If one experiences OA in the knees, a doctor can provide shots in the  knee joint, which can help to move it without as much pain. Surgery may also be  an option to repair or replace damaged joints in senior citizens.

Rheumatoid Arthritis Treatments.

Treatment can diminish the pain and swelling associated with RA and cause  joint damage to slow down or stop. One will feel better overall, and it will be  easier to move around. On top of pain and anti-inflammatory medications, a  doctor might prescribe DMARDs, which are anti-rheumatic drugs that can slow  damage from RA. Corticosteroids, including prednisone, can minimize swelling  while waiting for DMARDs to kick in. Additionally, biogenic response modifiers  block the damage inflicted by the immune system and help people with mild to  moderate RA when other treatments have failed to work properly.

Gout Treatment.

If you’ve gone through a gout attack, talk to a doctor to discuss possible  causes and future prevention of attacks. Work together with your doctor and  other elder care providers to plan and execute a plan for prevention. Commonly,  NSAIDs or corticosteroids are recommended for an acute attack. This treatment  diminishes swelling, allowing you to feel better fairly shortly after treatment.  Usually, the attack fully stops within a few days. If one has experienced  multiple attacks, a doctor may be able to prescribe medication to prevent  further attacks.

Exercise can help Arthritis.

In addition to taking the proper medication and allowing your joints to rest,  exercise can help senior citizens to stay in shape, maintain strong muscles, and  control symptoms of arthritis. Daily exercise like walking or swimming keeps  joints moving while lessening pain and strengthening the muscles around joints.  Before starting any new exercise program, it is important to discuss options  with your physician.

Three types of exercise are the best for senior citizens with arthritis:

  • Range-of-motion exercises reduce stiffness, improve flexibility, and keep  joints moving. Activities like dancing fit into this category.
  • Strengthening exercises strengthen muscles, which improves support and  protection to your joints. Weight training fits into this category.
  • Aerobic or endurance exercises improve health in the heart and arteries,  prevent weight gain, improve how your body works overall, and may decrease  swelling in some joints. Riding a bike fits into this  category.

Other things to do to manage Arthritis.


On top of exercise and weight control, a number of other methods may help  senior citizens ease the pain around joints. Applying heat or cold to joints,  soaking in a warm tub, or swimming in a heated pool may help you feel better and  move your joints more easily.

Surgery may be an option when damage has become disabling or when other  treatment options have not adequately diminished pain. With surgery, joints can  be repaired or replaced with artificial ones. Commonly, arthritic knees and hips  are replaced.

Unproven remedies.

Many senior citizens with arthritis try treatments that have not been tested  or proven to help. Some are harmful, like snake venom, while others are harmless  yet unhelpful, like copper bracelets.

Here are a few ways to determine whether a treatment is unproven:

  • The remedy is said to work for all types of arthritis and other  diseases
  • Scientific support is from only one research study
  • The label doesn’t include directions or warnings of  use

Areas for further research.


Studies suggest that acupuncture could ease OA pain in some senior citizens.  Dietary supplements such as glucosamine and chondroitin are also under  investigation and may reduce OA pain. More research is needed to determine  whether these types of treatments actually work to reduce symptoms and damage to  joints.

Talk to your doctor and others involved in your elder care.

Try not to make light of your symptoms by telling yourself that joint pain or  stiffness is simply caused by aging normally. Your doctor and other elder care  providers can discuss possible treatment options with you to safely minimize  your pain and stiffness and prevent more serious joint damage.

The Caring Space

David Crumrine at the Caring Space We are an organization that connects  caregivers and care seekers, providing an easy and affordable resource for  families seeking care for friends/loved ones and caregivers seeking  employment.

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