With more than 100 forms of arthritis and other rheumatic diseases, approximately 4.6 million Canadian adults, 44% of which are aged 65 or older, struggle to manage daily tasks.

Arthritis can strike anyone at anytime, regardless of age, physical condition or ethnic background, often with devastating and debilitating effects. The main symptoms of arthritis are chronic joint pain, stiffness and swelling, which often results in disability and a diminished quality of life.

Arthritis currently ranks 1st with women and 3rd among men when factoring in all causes of disability in Canada. Arthritis can prevent seniors from accomplishing the simplest of tasks such as walking, preparing meals, picking up objects or even sitting for prolonged periods of time. Additionally, many of those with arthritis have other conditions, most commonly heart disease, chronic respiratory disease, diabetes, or strokes that disable them further. For a senior who was once active, these limitations can result in feelings of depression and anxiety.

While there is no cure, there are many coping strategies for managing arthritis and accompanying conditions.

Practice good nutritional habits
Certain foods have been shown to reduce inflammation associated with arthritis as well as help maintain a healthy weight. Fish, at least twice a week, can reduce joint swelling, pain, and stiffness. Studies of rheumatoid arthritis patients show that adding fish oil supplements to their daily diets reduced arthritis symptoms to the degree that some patients were able to stop taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.

Nuts and seeds, loaded with inflammation-fighting monounsaturated fat, and fruits and vegetables, especially dark, leafy green vegetables that are high in antioxidants, also reduce arthritis symptoms. For maximum results, seniors should consume 1.5 ounces of nuts and at least nine servings of fruits and vegetable daily. Other foods that can help reduce pain are extra virgin olive oil (two to three tablespoons daily) and beans (at least two cups weekly). Vitamins A, C, D, E, K, and the B vitamins are also beneficial for reducing flare-ups.

Maintain optimal weight and exercise
Carrying extra weight creates additional stress and pain on joints that are already inflamed with arthritis. Exercise, which may be painful initially but will actually decrease pain over time, not only helps keep the weight down but also keeps the joints moving freely.

Exercise also releases endorphins, which can help stave off bouts of depression and release nervous anxiety. Both maintaining weight and exercising help to manage other chronic conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. Before beginning a program of exercise, however, seniors should speak with a medical professional.

Manage stress
Stress triggers the release of chemicals, such as cortisol, in the brain that can actually trigger flare-ups and increase the chances that the arthritis sufferer will develop other chronic conditions such as heart disease, anxiety, and depression. Staying active, doing deep breathing exercises, practicing meditation, talking with friends, or writing in a journal can help reduce stress thereby reducing pain and inflammation and the risks of developing other conditions.

Fast Fact
Osteoarthritis has been found in 70-million-year-old dinosaur bones and in Egyptian mummies, but was only classified in the 1700s.