Home Care Supports Arthritis Patients
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over 50 million Americans are living with arthritis. It is the most common disease in people over the age of 65, and approximately half of the population of that age has some form of the disease. It affects all race and ethnic groups, and is the most common cause of disability in the U.S.
Arthritis is not a single disease, but is a group of over 100 different conditions, all of which can cause pain, swelling and an interference with normal movement. Some types of arthritis are thought to be hereditary; some result from overuse or injury of a joint, or from years of “wear and tear”; some types are caused by infection and still others are caused by a malfunction of the immune system. Arthritis may affect only one joint, or many joints at the same time. The joints most commonly affected are the weight-bearing joints, such as the hips and knees, and also the smaller joints of the hands and neck.
Although there is no cure for most types of arthritis, the pain and inflammation can be reduced by a variety of medical treatments. Appropriate treatment can often result in great improvement to a person’s condition, as well as preventing further damage. Treatment depends on the type and degree of the condition.
Analgesic and anti-inflammatory medications relieve pain and reduce inflammation, or both. Aspirin or ibuprofen are often prescribed. Alternative pain relievers such as corticosteroids, acetaminophen and topical ointments or rubs also may be prescribed, depending on the type and severity of a patient’s arthritis.
Exercise and rest are both important. People with arthritis tire more easily; the physician may also order rest of a painful joint. But it is just as important to remain active. Exercise helps strengthen the muscles surrounding affected joints, protecting them from further damage. It also increases blood flow and lubrication of joints, and helps keep the joint strong and mobile, preventing loss of function. Exercise also helps patients maintain a healthy weight; being overweight puts extra stress on joints. A physician-prescribed exercise program will usually include range-of-motion, strengthening and aerobic exercises.
Physical therapy benefits many arthritis patients and can include heat or cold treatments, whirlpool and massage, splinting to immobilize and rest a joint, and training in performing exercises to loosen and build up joints and surrounding muscles.
Occupational therapists help patients achieve the greatest level of independence possible by providing instruction in alternative ways of performing the activities of daily living and self-care. They can also evaluate a patient’s home environment to suggest any necessary adaptations, such as grab bars or a raised toilet seat.
Adaptive devices can make living with arthritis easier. Occupational therapists can instruct arthritis patients in the use of mobility aids that lessen the stress on joints, such as canes and walkers. For arthritis in the shoulder or hand, long-handled spoons, zipper pulls, built-up toothbrush handles and page turners make the activities of daily living easier.
Surgery may be recommended if arthritis is causing severe pain and lost joint function. Some surgical procedures repair or remove damaged tissue. Joint replacement is becoming more and more common, and most patients experience excellent results from an artificial hip or knee.
When a senior has painful arthritis, family members often worry that their loved one is not safe living at home. Is their loved one taking medications correctly? Following the doctor’s recommendations for exercise? Is their loved one becoming isolated by decreased mobility and fear of falling?
Professional home care services help senior clients manage arthritis in several important ways:
Assistance with the activities of daily living. Mobility limitations and painful joints make it hard to do some of the daily tasks most of us take for granted. A home care professional can assist with housekeeping, transportation, laundry, personal care, and meal preparation, including special diets.
Encouragement and confidence to support activity. With a home caregiver present, clients feel more secure engaging in the recommended activity program, whether it is a formal exercise program, a walk around the block, chair exercises or gardening.
Transportation to healthcare appointments and prescribed activities. Not all home care happens at home! If transportation is a challenge, the home care worker can take the client to doctor’s appointments, exercise classes, or physical therapy.
Medication management. It is very important for arthritis patients to take medications at the right time, and in the correct way. Depending on the type of caregiver and state regulations, home care workers can provide medication reminders, take clients to the pharmacy or pick up prescriptions, help organize medications, and report any side effects.
Fall protection. Arthritis is a risk factor for falls. Home caregivers can remove clutter from pathways, mop up spills promptly, perform potentially hazardous household tasks, and assist clients as they walk up or down stairs.
Care after joint replacement recovery. When a patient comes home after hip or knee replacement surgery, complying with post-surgical instructions is one of the top predictors of successful recovery. Home care helps patients comply with post-surgical instructions, such as avoiding dangerous motions that could damage the healing joint.
When arthritis compromises a senior’s mobility and quality of life, trained, professional caregivers support a client’s independence and provide welcome peace of mind for the patient and family alike.
For More Information
The Arthritis Foundation (www.arthritis.org) offers support, resources and information about more than 100 types of arthritis and related conditions.
See the website of the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (www.niams.nih.gov) for information and the latest updates.
The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (http://orthoinfo.aaos.org) provides consumer information, including a detailed discussion of different types of arthritis and treatment.