When it’s time for dad or mom to move into a senior living community, one of the biggest worries can be the maintenance of their health and wellness, particularly if they suffer from something as debilitating yet devastatingly common as arthritis.
Learn more about how senior communities everywhere are helping residents ease and treat arthritis symptoms with exercise, nutrition and wellness programs.
Arthritis affects health and quality of life for one in five adults, according to the Arthritis Foundation. One-third of the 50 million Americans with arthritis — about 16.7 million people — are over the age of 65.
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Senior living communities that provide assisted living or skilled nursing services are well aware of the extent to which arthritis affects older adults, and many offer exercise, nutrition and other wellness programs specifically designed to maximize overall health and alleviate joint and muscle pain in arthritis sufferers.
Though arthritis is not simply a disease of old age — two-thirds of sufferers are under 65, including 300,000 children — we commonly associate it with getting older. Indeed, the most prevalent form of arthritis, osteoarthritis, is more likely to occur as we age, though genetics, injury and weight also play a role. The joint pain and stiffness of osteoarthritis result from a breakdown of cartilage, causing the bones in the joint to rub together. Arthritis sufferers often experience a deterioration in coordination and posture, and may have trouble climbing stairs, sleeping or walking.
Although osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis, it’s just one of 100 different conditions and diseases grouped under the umbrella of arthritis. Another frequently diagnosed form of the disease is rheumatoid arthritis, or RA. RA is an autoimmune disorder that causes fluid to build up in the joints.
Besides drug treatments, health interventions such as physical exercise, proper nutrition and weight control are all effective in staving off the painful symptoms of many kinds of arthritis. In senior living communities, nutrition is paramount, and the dining options offered cater to the unique nutritional needs of seniors so that they receive the right proportion of vitamins, minerals, and healthful foods. Sunrise Senior Living, for instance, makes use of the MyPlate for Older Adults, which is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s nutrition guideline for seniors.
A diet high in fiber, nutrients and protein, and low in salt, sugar, and saturated fat helps seniors maintain a healthy weight. Excess weight, on the other hand, puts additional pressure on the joints. Also, says the Arthritis Foundation:
“Recent research suggests that excess body fat produces chemicals that travel throughout the body and cause joint damage.”
Other senior living communities put the focus on exercise. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, even an activity as simple as walking can improve arthritis fatigue, pain and quality of life. However, today’s senior communities offer a wide range of physical activities programming, from dance classes to tai chi. Often, classes are tailored to the needs of the residents, and sometimes there are specific programs to target arthritis.
Willow Creek Assisted Living in Las Vegas, Nevada, offers educational seminars and exercise programs designed for residents with rheumatoid arthritis. In the seminars, seniors learn about the mechanisms of the disease, pain management, proper exercise and nutrition; the exercise classes focus on stretching and strength training. The Village at Brookfield Common, along with 44 other Benchmark Communities, offers a free Arthritis Foundation Exercise Program led by specially trained instructors.
The quickest way to find out whether there’s an arthritis program out there for your senior parent is to check the Arthritis Foundation’s website, which maintains extensive listings of classes designed to help treat arthritis pain. Most of the classes take place at community centers, senior centers, and senior communities, and a wide variety are available.
Whether yoga is dad or mom’s thing, or they prefer a more active outdoor activity such as golf, there are ways to adapt many physical exercises for those with joint pain. Some of the most highly recommended activities are aquatic sports such as swimming or water aerobics, cycling or walking, and strengthening exercises like pilates, tai chi and yoga.
Nutritionally speaking, the National Center on Health, Physical Activity, and Disability advocates a diet that will help reduce inflammation. Refined carbohydrates, for instance, can lead to inflammation, so reducing consumption of refined sugar and flour and increasing fiber is the way to go. A heart-healthy diet is also great for arthritis: cutting down on saturated and trans fats and increasing good fats like omega-3s.
Getting plenty of B vitamins and drinking enough water is also important — for some healthy meal suggestions, check out our list of 25 nutrient-dense recipes for seniors.
Do your senior loved ones participate in exercise or wellness programs to treat arthritis pain? Share your stories and tips with us in the comments below.