Arthritis: Symptoms and Care

Arthritis: Symptoms and Care

Arthritis is one of the most common diseases in the US. Millions of adults and half of all people age 65 and older are troubled by this disease.

Arthritis is best known as a condition of painful, stiff joints. In fact, there are a variety of symptoms. Most arthritis is chronic, with symptoms lasting years. Arthritis can attack joints in almost any part of the body. The primary forms of arthritis cause changes you can see and feel such as pain, swelling, warmth and redness in your joints.

Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common type of arthritis in older people. OA starts when cartilage, the tissue that pads bones in the joint, begins to wear away. You are most likely to have OA in your hands, neck, lower back, or the large weight-bearing joints of your body, such as knees and hips. OA symptoms can range from stiffness and mild intermittent pain with activities like walking, bending, or stooping to severe joint pain that persists even when you are at rest. In time OA can cause disability if your back, knees, or hips are affected. OA is primarily an age-related condition and may be hereditary. OA in the knees may be aggravated by weight. Injuries or overuse may cause OA in joints such as knees, hips, or hands.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease. In RA, your body attacks the lining of a joint just as it would if it were trying to protect you from injury or disease. For example, if you had a splinter in your finger, the finger would become inflamed-painful, red, and swollen. RA leads to inflammation in your joints and can attack almost any joint in the body. This inflammation causes pain, swelling, and stiffness that lasts for hours. This can happen in many different joints at the same time. People of any age can develop RA, and it is more common in women.

Arthritis Treatment

Each kind of arthritis is handled a little differently, but there are some common treatment choices. Rest, exercise, eating a healthy, well-balanced diet, and learning the right way to use and protect your joints are key to living with any kind of arthritis. The right shoes and a cane can help with pain in the feet, knees, and hips when walking.

There are medications that can help with pain and swelling. Acetaminophen can safely ease arthritis pain. Some NSAIDs (nonsteroidalanti-inflammatorydrugs), like ibuprofen and naproxen, are effective for inflammation paid, however there are side effects to be aware of, such as stomach bleeding and they may raise blood pressure. You should read the warnings on the package that comes with the drug. Talk to your doctor about if and how you should use acetaminophen or NSAIDs for your arthritis pain.

Osteoarthritis

Medicines can help you control OA pain. Rest and exercise will make it easier for you to move your joints. Keeping your weight down is a good idea. If pain from OA is very bad, your doctor may provide a corticosteroids shot in the joint. When effective, relief can last for up to a month, but there are long-term health concerns with continued use of steroids. Some people have surgery to repair or replace damaged joints.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

With treatment, the pain and swelling from RA will get better, and joint damage might slow down or stop. In addition to pain and anti-inflammatory medicines, your doctor might suggest anti-rheumatic drugs, called DMARDs (disease-modifyingantirheumatic drugs). These can slow damage from the disease. Another type of drug, biologic response modifiers, blocks the damage done by the immune system. They sometimes help people with mild-to-moderate RA when other treatments have not worked.

Exercise Can Help

Along with taking the right medications and properly resting your joints, exercise is a good way to stay fit, keep muscles strong, and control arthritis symptoms. Daily exercise, such as walking or swimming, helps keep joints moving, decreases pain, and makes muscles around the joints stronger.

Range-of-motion Exercises: Dancing and yoga both relieve stiffness, keep you flexible, and help you keep moving your joints.

Strengthening Exercises: Weight training will keep or build muscle strength. Strong muscles support and protect your joints.

Aerobic and Endurance Exercises: Bicycle riding and running or brisk walking make your heart and arteries healthier, help prevent weight gain, and improve the overall working of your body. Aerobic exercise also may decrease swelling in some joints.

Alternative Treatments

A helpful short-term treatment is the application of heat, such as applying a heated compress, soaking in a warm bath, or swimming in a heated pool. Massage devices in conjunction with heat have been reported to provide temporary relief for OA pain.

Recent studies suggest that Chinese acupuncture may ease OA pain for some people. Research now shows that the dietary supplements glucosamine and chondroitin may help lessen your OA pain. These are both considered “alternative” therapies.

Have Great Posture as You Age

Have Great Posture as You Age

Having good posture minimizes stress on your back by keeping your muscles and bones in their natural positions as well as making your movements more fluid and efficient. Poor posture, on the other hand, can create a variety of health problems. It can impede breathing, blood circulation, digestion, organ functions and overall alertness. Slouching creates 10 to 15 times extra pressure on the spinal cord. It can generate neck pain, headaches and limited joint movement. Problems may even result in the legs and feet.

Here are 8 helpful tips to keep you standing tall at any age.

1. Open Up

Now that many of us spend our days hunched in front of a computer, “it’s very important for us to be able to stretch and open up and improve our range of motion,” says Jonathan F. Bean, MD, MS, MPH, an assistant professor in the department of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Harvard Medical School in Boston.

2. Easy Exercises

To stay limber, try to get up for a couple minutes every half hour and stretch, walk, or stand. Try this exercise: Lie down on the floor and make slow “snow angels” with your arms for two or three minutes.

For an extra challenge, roll up a towel and put it on the floor underneath your spine. Many gyms have half foam rollers—a tube cut in half lengthwise—that you can use for even more of a stretch. Do these stretches slowly and stop if you feel anything more than mild discomfort or pain, says Dr. Bean.

3. Sit Straight

When you do have to work at a desk, “sitting up with good, tall posture and your shoulders dropped is a good habit to get into,” says Rebecca Seguin, PhD, an exercise physiologist and nutritionist in Seattle.  This can take some getting used to; exercise disciplines that focus on body awareness, such as Pilates and yoga, can help you to stay sitting straight, Seguin says. Make sure your workstation is set up to promote proper posture.

4. Strengthen Your Core

Pilates and yoga are great ways to build up the strength of your “core”—the muscles of your abdomen and pelvic area. These muscles form the foundation of good posture, and a strong core can have many other benefits, from improving your athletic performance to preventing urinary incontinence.

5. Support Your Spine

After menopause, women may have more weakening in the muscles around the spine than aging men do, Dr. Bean says. Exercises targeting the back extensors, neck flexors, pelvic muscles, and side muscles are crucial. Trainers at gyms can help; there are even special machines that target these muscles. Endurance in the spine and trunk muscle groups is important too, according to Dr. Bean; “that’s what allows us to stand up for long periods of time without our back hurting us.”

6. Lift Weights

The vertebral compression fractures that subtract from our height—and can lead to the “dowager’s hump” in the upper back that’s a hallmark of old age—are due to the bone-thinning disease osteoporosis. We can prevent these changes with weight-bearing exercises, like walking, stair climbing, and weightlifting. “People who walk regularly through their whole lives tend to have better bone density than sedentary people,” Seguin explains.

7. Vitamins and Minerals

A healthy diet is essential for providing strong bones and muscles that allow for ideal posture. In particular for bone health, getting the optimal daily dosage of Vitamin D and calcium is essential. The recommended dietary intake for vitamin D is 600 IU a day for women up to age 70 and 800 IU for women older than 70. For calcium, Women 19 to 50 years old should take 1,000 milligrams daily. Women over 50 should take 1,200 milligrams.

8. Consider Medication

Your doctor will be able to tell you whether you need a bone mineral density scan to detect osteopenia or osteoporosis.  Although Seguin says that activities like progressive resistance training can halt or reverse bone loss in some cases, medications may also help. These include bisphosphonates like Boniva, Reclast, and Fosamax. (Although safe, such drugs can increase the risk of rare fractures.) Hormone-based medications that can help build bone density include Evista (raloxifene), calcitonin, and parathyroid hormone.

Urinary Tract Infections in the Elderly

Urinary Tract Infections in the Elderly

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) aren’t just a nuisance in the elderly—they can cause serious health problems. A UTI happens when bacteria in the urethra, bladder or kidneys multiplies in the urine. If left untreated, a UTI can lead to acute or chronic kidney infections, which could permanently damage these vital organs and even lead to kidney failure. These common infections are also a leading cause of sepsis, a potentially life-threatening infection of the bloodstream.

Seniors Are Prone to UTIs

The population most likely to experience UTIs is the elderly. Older individuals are more vulnerable for many reasons, including their overall susceptibility to infections due to a weakened immune system. Elderly men and women also experience a weakening of the muscles of the bladder and pelvic floor, which can lead to increased urine retention (incomplete emptying of the bladder) and incontinence. These things all contribute to infection.

Typical Symptoms of UTIs are as follows: Frequent or urgent need to urinate; pain or burning during urination; urine that appears cloudy or dark; bloody urine; strong or foul-smelling urine; feelings of pressure in the lower pelvis; low-grade fever; night sweats, shaking or chills.

Lesser-Known UTI Symptoms in Seniors

Older individuals with UTIs may not exhibit any of the hallmark signs listed above because their immune systems are unable to mount a significant response to the infection. On top of the lack of noticeable symptoms, many seniors cannot express their discomfort to their caregivers.

Since aging adults’ bodies respond differently to infection, it is important to look for different signs and symptoms. One symptom of UTIs in the elderly is often mistaken for the early stages of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, according to National Institutes of Health (NIH). Indicators of infection in seniors include the following: Confusion or delirium; agitation; hallucinations; poor motor skills or loss of coordination; dizziness; falling; and other atypical behavior.

These are often the only symptoms that present in the elderly, so it is crucial to keep an eye out for these sudden changes in behavior and mental state.

Diagnosis & Treatment

In most cases, diagnosing and treating an elderly urinary tract infection is relatively straightforward: a simple urinalysis can confirm the infection’s presence and, for someone in good health, antibiotics are the first choice of treatment. UTIs often clear up in only a few days. But depending on the age and health of the patient—and the severity of the infection—the course of treatment can take weeks and perhaps involve hospitalization for the administration of intravenous antibiotics.

Risk Factors & Prevention

Older adults at greater risk for getting a UTI include: Those who require a catheter in the urethra and bladder; those who are diabetic; anyone with kidney stones; and, women who’ve gone through menopause.

After menopause, women produce less estrogen, which helps protect against UTIs. Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) or a topical estrogen cream can help protect post-menopausal women from UTIs. However HRT may increase other health risks, so may not be appropriate for all women. About 20 percent of women who’ve had a UTI will experience a second one, and 30 percent of those women will get third.

Other steps to take to reduce the risk of UTIs:

  • Drink plenty of fluids (Older adults should drink four to six 8-ounce glasses of water a day).
  • Drink cranberry juice (without added sugar) or D-Mannose tablets (which is the glucose-like compound in cranberry juice that help reduce the occurrence of UTIs.)
  • Avoid or at least limit caffeine and alcohol intake, which irritates the bladder.
  • Do not douche or use other feminine hygiene products.
  • Always wipe from front to back (for women).
  • Wear breathable cotton underwear and change them at least once a day.
  • Take showers instead of baths.
Your Brain on Books

Your Brain on Books

Diving into a great novel is an immersive experience that can make your brain come alive with imagery and emotions and even turn on your senses. There is hard evidence that supports that while reading, we can actually physically change our brain structure, become more empathetic, and even trick our brains into thinking we’ve experienced what we’ve only read in novels.

We make photos in our minds.

Reading books and other materials with vivid imagery is not only fun, it also allows us to create worlds in our own minds. Researchers have found that visual imagery is simply automatic. Participants were able to identify photos of objects faster if they’d just read a sentence that described the object visually, suggesting that when we read a sentence, we automatically bring up pictures of objects in our minds.

Spoken word can put your brain to work.

Critics are quick to dismiss audiobooks as a sub-par reading experience, but research has shown that the act of listening to a story can light up your brain. When we’re told a story, not only are language processing parts of our brain activated, experiential parts of our brain come alive, too. Hear about food? Your sensory cortex lights up, while motion activates the motor cortex.

Reading about experiences is almost the same as living it.

Have your ever felt so connected to a story that it’s as if you experienced it in real life? There’s a good reason why: your brain actually believes that you have experienced it. When we read, the brain does not make a real distinction between reading about an experience and actually living it; the same neurological regions are stimulated. Novels are able to enter into our thoughts and feelings.

Different styles of reading create different patterns in the brain.

Any kind of reading provides stimulation for your brain, but different types of reading give different experiences with varying benefits. Stanford University researchers have found that close literary reading in particular gives your brain a workout in multiple complex cognitive functions, while pleasure reading increases blood flow to different areas of the brain. They concluded that reading a novel closely for literary study and thinking about its value is an effective brain exercise, more effective than simple pleasure reading alone.

Your brain adapts to reading e-books in seven days.

If you’re used to reading paper books, picking up an e-reader can feel very awkward at first. But experts insist that your brain can adopt the new technology quickly, no matter your age or how long you’ve been reading on paper. In fact, the human brain adapts to new technology, including e-reading, within seven days.

Story structure encourages our brains to think in sequence, expanding our attention spans.

Stories have a beginning, middle, and end, and that’s a good thing for your brain. With this structure, our brains are encouraged to think in sequence, linking cause and effect. The more you read, the more your brain is able to adapt to this line of thinking. Neuroscientists encourage parents to take this knowledge and use it for children, reading to kids as much as possible. In doing so, you’ll be instilling story structure in young minds while the brain has more plasticity, and the capacity to expand their attention span.

Reading changes your brain structure (in a good way)

Not everyone is a natural reader. Poor readers may not truly understand the joy of literature, but they can be trained to become better readers. And in this training, their brains actually change. In a six-month daily reading program from Carnegie Mellon, scientists discovered that the volume of white matter in the language area of the brain actually increased. Further, they showed that brain structure can be improved with this training, making it more important than ever to adopt a healthy love of reading.

Deep reading makes us more empathetic:

It feels great to lose yourself in a book and doing so can even physically change your brain. As we let go of the emotional and mental chatter found in the real world, we enjoy deep reading that allows us to feel what the characters in a story feel. And this in turn makes us more empathetic to people in real life, becoming more aware and alert to the lives of others.
5 Natural Ways to Improve Oxygen Levels

5 Natural Ways to Improve Oxygen Levels

The feeling of being out of breath (dyspnea) is a sensation that is well known to those who suffer from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. Although it is common for those experiencing shortness of breath to use oxygen therapy (oxygen tanks) to cope, the downsides can include fatigue, headaches, and dry or bloody noses. Further, when depending on oxygen tanks as a primary oxygen supplement, there exists a severe risk: the body can learn to actively suppress its natural respiratory system. Following is a list of 5 natural ways to improve your oxygen levels that should help in reducing your dependence on tanks.

Change Your Diet: Antioxidants allow the body to use oxygen more efficiently, increasing oxygen intake in digestion. When looking to boost antioxidant intake, the foods to focus on are blueberries, cranberries, red kidney beans, artichoke hearts, strawberries, plums and blackberries, most of which can be consumed in various juices and smoothies. Another critical protein to consider are essential fatty acids like Vitamin F, which work to increase the amount of oxygen the hemoglobin in the bloodstream can carry. These acids can be found in soybeans, walnuts and flaxseeds.  If you are on your own, and do not have easy access to these foods, or struggle with meal preparation, consider hiring a private caregiver for a few hours to help with meal preparation and shopping.

Get Active: Exercise is key to a healthy life. Through aerobic exercise, such as simple walking, the body is able to better utilize oxygen while removing waste through the lymphatic system. As recommended by the American Heart Association, 30 minutes a day of regular walking has greater effects on the circulatory system than spending an hour or more in the gym 2 to 3 times a week. Aside from the physical health benefits, walking has been shown to improve mood, confidence, and reduce stress.  As with the previous tip, if walking is difficult look for ways to hire a caregiver to help with get you out walking each day.

Change Your Breathing: Exercising your lungs regularly is crucial to maintaining ones respiratory health. However, what is often an impediment to one’s breathing is the method in which they breathe. It’s recently been discovered that sick people breathe using the upper chest and inhale more air, which causes reduced oxygen levels in the body. In contrast, the correct method to proper breathing, is slow, from the diaphragm, and through the nose, rather than the mouth.

Cleanse the Air: Often the triggers of flare-ups in those with COPD is poor air quality. Because of this, it is imperative to maintain the purest quality of air possible within the home and workplace. There are a number of air purifiers on the market that can filter the worst of our environmental pollutants. Another helpful “low-tech” tool in reducing pollution in the air and purifying oxygen is a beeswax candle. Unlike traditional candles, beeswax candles do not emit smoke. Instead they produce negative ions that help in the removal of air pollution.

Hydrate: The human body is roughly 60 percent water, so it cannot be understated how critical water is to how the body functions: allowing body cells to grow, lubricating our joints and regulating body temperature. When looking to get the full benefits of oxygenation, drink filtered water. Restructured or ionized water is micro-clustered with smaller groupings of water molecules. This provides high levels of hydration and oxygenation at the cellular level. Keep in mind that caffeinated beverages, alcohol and high sodium foods all dehydrate the body, so keep water with you during the day and get in the habit of drinking it throughout the day. Health professionals recommend 8 8-oz. glasses of water a day.

If you are independent and physically capable of implementing each of the above tips for increasing oxygen levels, take action today!  If you need help to implement any of the above, reach out to us to schedule the care you need.  When it comes to good health, there is very little that is more important than getting the right amount of oxygen.

 

Tips for Managing Seasonal Allergies

Tips for Managing Seasonal Allergies

Spring is here, with flowers, grass, and for a lot of us, allergies. If you suspect your allergies are getting worse over time, returning after a long break, or starting for the first time, you may be right. One of the ironies of living a long time is that our immune systems have more chances to develop adverse reactions to seasonal allergies.

Here are some tips to help you survive the season:

  1. Use an air conditioner, fan, or humidifier to keep your home cool. Minimize time spent with your windows open.
  2. Check pollen levels. The National Pollen site publishes allergy forecasts just like the weather station. Check areas that you are travelling and try to pick places where the forecast is low.  Avoid outdoor activity in the morning when pollen counts are highest.
  3. Make sure your doctor knows.  Prescription allergy medicine may be more effective for you, and your doctor can make sure that it doesn’t interfere with any other medications you may take.  If pollen counts are forecasted, start taking allergy medications before your symptoms start.
  4. Avoid mowing and gardening as much as possible and delegate this job to someone else. If you must, take your medication and prescribed and wear a pollen mask to minimize your exposure.
  5. Wearing sunglasses is one of the easiest things you can do to prevent allergens from getting in the eyes. Once someone who has allergies begins rubbing their eyes, they unwittingly spread pollen around.
  6. Shower and change after spending time outside to get rid of any allergens that might be in your hair, on your skin, and attached to your clothing.

With some effort, you can decrease your allergy symptoms and enjoy the warmer temps.