Osteoarthritis: Elaine's story
Helping a Loved One With Osteoarthritis
Caring for someone with osteoarthritis can be a challenge, but you can play a vital role in improving your loved one's quality of life.
By Chris Iliades, MD
Medically Reviewed by Pat F. Bass III, MD, MPH
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More than 16 million Americans are living with osteoarthritis, the most common form of arthritis. And with the aging of the baby boom generation, that number is projected to rise — meaning that many adults will find themselves as caregivers for elderly parents with osteoarthritis, perhaps even while coping with the condition themselves.
Osteoarthritis joint pain commonly affects the feet, knees, hips, and fingers, and can be disabling enough to interfere with overall quality of life. But there are many ways that caregivers can help a loved one with osteoarthritis maintain his or her independence and mobility.
"The most useful thing a caregiver can do is get rid of the idea that osteoarthritis is a ‘disease,’" says Jonathan Edwards, MD, professor of connective tissue medicine at University College London, England. “The person should be encouraged to live as full a life as possible and not assume it will get worse."
Osteoarthritis Caregiving Tips
Here are some smart solutions for osteoarthritis caregiving.
Be a knowledgeable advocate.Older people with osteoarthritis may not always be willing to question a doctor's advice, and, as a result, may not take an active part in their osteoarthritis treatment.
By educating yourself about osteoarthritis, you can be your loved one's advocate at doctor's appointments. Do your own research online or at a library or bookstore. Talk to other health professionals, such as nurses, pharmacists, dieticians, and physical therapists, about how to live well with osteoarthritis.
Create a safer home.Falling is the leading cause of injuries and injury-related deaths for people over the age of 65. As osteoarthritis progresses, muscles can get weaker and knees or hips can get stiffer, increasing the risk of falling. A fall at home can seriously affect your loved one’s independence.
You can help by making a home-safety checklist, which should include:
- Making sure the home has good lighting, especially in stairways and hallways. Light switches should be easily accessible both at the top and bottom of stairs, and flashlights should be within reach in case of a power outage.
- Watching out for loose carpeting, electric cords, and low-lying furniture.
- Putting handrails in the bathroom and on both sides of all stairways.
- Making sure kitchen supplies are within easy reach. Many falls happen when an older person stands on a chair to retrieve something.
- Getting rid of any throw rugs near the top or bottom of stairways or entranceways.
Ensuring that your loved one's home is safe will help that person to remain independent longer, which often improves the person’s outlook and emotional health.
Exercise and eat right.Diet and exercise are the most effective therapies to promote weight loss in people with osteoarthritis and to help relieve pressure on the joints, says Carol Wolin-Riklin, RD, MA, of the University of Texas Medical School at Houston, adding, “The entire family can benefit from following a healthy meal and exercise program." Exercise also decreases stress, and provides relaxation and a sense of satisfaction that improve emotional health.
Osteoarthritis Caregiving: Planning for an Emergency
You may not be able to be with your loved one all the time. Consider investing in a device such as a personal emergency response system, which allows you to monitor the person with severe osteoarthritis, . The person wears a small transmitter around the neck or on the wrist that can be activated to summon emergency care in case of a fall or other medical emergency. This can become more important as osteoarthritis progresses and mobility decreases.
Osteoarthritis Caregiving: Getting Help for You, Too
Caregiving for a loved one with osteoarthritis can be stressful. Studies show that if caregivers don't take care of themselves, they can suffer from depression and physical illness. So remember, taking care of your own health is of equal importance to taking care of your loved one.
“Caregiving for a loved one with osteoarthritis can be hard work, but it can also be an act of love and a great way of spending time together. Enjoy a regular gentle walk and a lighter, healthier diet together," advises Edwards. Together, you can make life with arthritis a less daunting challenge.
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