Have you noticed your senior loved one wincing as they go to grab something off of a shelf? Do they seem to be experiencing pain or swelling in their joints, impacting their ability to move freely and truly enjoy their day-to-day life? If so, your senior loved one may be one of the millions of seniors living with arthritis.
Broadly speaking, arthritis is a general term referring to joint pain or joint disease. Seniors with arthritis may experience stiffness, pain, swelling, and significantly decreased range of motion in their hips, knees, back, or hands. Arthritis can make activities of daily living more difficult and cause seniors significant pain and discomfort, which can have a ripple effect that touches almost every other aspect of their lives, from their mental health to their relationships.
There are many different types of arthritis, and arthritis symptoms can impact seniors to different degrees. Some of the most common forms of arthritis in the elderly include osteoarthritis (which occurs when the cartilage between joints wears down) and rheumatoid arthritis (an autoimmune disease that leads to inflammation in the joints).
Family caregivers can be an invaluable resource to elderly adults with arthritis, helping them to coordinate with their care team, improve their living environment, and focus on maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Here are five ways that family caregivers can assist senior loved ones age in place with arthritis safely, independently, and happily:
Connect With the Senior’s Healthcare Team
For older adults managing arthritis, it’s incredibly important to stay in touch with their healthcare team, which may include their primary care physician, arthritis specialist, physical therapist, and pharmacist, among others.
Over time, it’s important to keep these healthcare professionals informed of any changes to the senior’s condition, so that they can modify their course of action accordingly. Your senior loved one’s healthcare team may pursue many different solutions as they help your loved one address their arthritis, ranging from offering specific exercise recommendations to prescribing certain medications. As a family caregiver, it’s crucial that you maintain an open dialogue with your senior and their medical team, to make sure that you’re up-to-date on their care plan, and can address any questions or concerns as they come up.
Meanwhile, it will likely fall to you to help make sure your senior loved one is sticking to their medication and fitness regimens by offering reminders, creating schedules, and providing some much-needed support, guidance, and encouragement at home.
Make Simple Home Modifications
One of the most impactful things a family caregiver can do for a senior loved one with arthritis is to help them modify and update their home environment, to make sure it’s safe, livable, and, above all, comfortable.
If a full-scale home renovation is not in the cards, even a few simple swaps here and there can dramatically improve day-to-day life for seniors with arthritis, making their activities of daily living easier while reducing strain and minimizing their risk of falling. Here are a few ideas to consider:
- Place kitchen appliances at counter height, so there’s no need for stooping or bending
- Raise the height of seats throughout the home, including stools, dining room chairs, and toilets
- Get rid of clutter, which can create obstacles for seniors with more limited mobility; make sure there are clear paths throughout the home
- Add grab bars and non-slip mats in the bathroom, and strategically add railings or support throughout the home
- Equip the senior with a grabber, so they do not have to stretch or bend to reach everyday items
- Opt for automation wherever you can – electric can openers and similar appliances can make things easier in the kitchen, while automated toilet bowl cleaners and other gadgets can work wonders in the bathroom
- Make dressing easier by setting up your loved one with zipper pulls, button fasteners, and long-handled shoehorns
- Add nightlights and easy-to-control lighting throughout the home
- Consider adapting the layout of the home to work for the senior’s needs; this may mean relocating the laundry room so it’s not in the basement, or setting up the master bedroom on the main floor so your loved one doesn’t need to take the stairs each night
Help Your Senior Loved One Eat Healthfully
“You are what you eat,” as the old saying goes – and for adults with arthritis, a few simple dietary swaps can go a long way toward better overall health.
In many cases, nutrition will be one of the first things that a medical professional will discuss with your senior. Eating healthfully and avoiding certain foods can help mitigate some of the symptoms of arthritis, for many people. At the same time, doctors will often encourage seniors to focus on maintaining a healthy weight, as this can help make it easier to move, and exert less pressure on sensitive joints.
To that end, the Arthritis Foundation recommends focusing on a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, grains, and proteins, while cutting out processed foods and other foods high in sugars and unhealthy fats. Nutrition experts also tend to recommend foods that are rich in antioxidants and which can help naturally fight inflammation, including blueberries, blackberries, cherries, strawberries, spinach, kale, broccoli, nuts, and fish.
For a more in-depth guide to eating well with arthritis, you may want to peruse the Arthritis Foundation’s “Arthritis Diet” guide, available here.
Focus on Movement and Physical Activity
Along with diet, exercise and physical activity can make a big difference for seniors aging in place with arthritis. Focusing on low-impact exercises can help seniors get moving, stretch out, and strengthen their muscles, making it easier to manage the symptoms of arthritis in their joints over time. It’s important to talk with a doctor or physical therapist before attempting to start a new exercise regimen! These trained medical professionals can offer important guidance and recommendations on what types of activities your senior loved one should take up, and which exercises to avoid.
Broadly speaking, the Arthritis Foundation encourages seniors and caregivers to look into activities that allow seniors to get active while putting less strain on their joints, including walking, doing yoga or tai chi, gently stretching, biking, or getting in the pool to swim or do water exercises. For more information on exercising with arthritis, we encourage you to visit the Arthritis Foundation’s “Exercises for Arthritis” guide, here.
Be Open and Empathetic
For many seniors, arthritis can be a significant burden, above and beyond the physical pain it causes. In many cases, older adults dealing with arthritis symptoms may become socially withdrawn, or start to experience feelings of depression or anxiety. Feeling trapped by their physical condition, many older adults may respond with anger, or helplessness. In short, experiencing chronic pain and limited mobility can put a damper on a senior’s spirits, and influence how they interact with others.
As a family caregiver, it’s important to keep an open mind, and always try to put yourself in your senior loved one’s shoes. Be empathetic, and be willing to listen to their complaints and address their needs. Often, one of the very best things you can do to help improve a senior’s quality of life is to simply be present for them, offering a sympathetic ear and a warm hug. Keep up an open dialogue, and be alert for changes or yellow flags, particularly since your senior loved one may not always volunteer this sensitive information themselves.
Whenever possible, try to look for ways to help your senior loved one socialize. In addition to spending as much quality time as possible with your senior loved one, this could mean helping them join an arthritis-focused exercise group, driving them to community events or religious meetings, or bringing in a caregiver to spend time playing games or sharing meals with your loved one for those times when your calendar gets too full.
Don’t Be Afraid to Reach Out for Help
As a family caregiver, it’s important to know your limits. While caregiving is an incredibly generous act of love and support, it can also be physically and emotionally draining, and leave you with little time left for the other important things in life – including taking care of your own health and well-being.
For all those times when you need an extra set of hands, don’t be afraid to reach out for help. There are countless resources available to family caregivers looking to support a senior with arthritis, ranging from local support groups, to food and laundry delivery services, to professional home care. The Arthritis Foundation is also a great resource, with many tools and recommendations available on its site, here. To learn more about the Arthritis Foundation’s Chicago and Central Illinois office, read on here.
In particular, home care, provided by an experienced senior companion, can be a great way to help seniors live safely in the comfort of home, while maintaining their independence – and also giving family caregivers the chance to get some much-needed respite.
With non-medical home care, a senior companion is available on a flexible schedule, providing the support your senior loved one needs when they need it. A companion can provide a wide range of services designed to help empower your senior loved one live life to the fullest, including:
- Providing assistance with activities of daily living (ADLs), such as sitting, standing, or moving around
- Helping with shopping and meal preparation
- Assisting with housekeeping and laundry
- Providing transportation to social events, doctor’s appointments, and more
- Offering medication and exercise reminders
- Stepping in as a friend to play games, share meals, swap stories, and help your senior loved one remain social
About Companions for Seniors
If you have a loved one that you believe could benefit from the assistance of a professional caregiver, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with the experts at Companions for Seniors.
We’re locally owned in the Chicago area, with clients in the city and suburbs, and we’re here to answer any questions you may have about any aspect of caring for your aging loved one.
Our companions are trained, bonded, and insured, and can help you and your family shoulder some of the responsibility of caring for the senior in your life. We help provide seniors with a higher quality of life, while also offering respite and peace of mind for family caregivers who might need some support.
We offer personalized care plans for each of our clients. Our caregivers can assist with activities of daily living, housekeeping, driving services, and more, all on a flexible schedule that works for you.
Have any questions? Want to get in touch? Don’t hesitate to give us a call at 866-910-9020, or fill out our contact form, available here.