Rather than a single disease, arthritis is an informal way of referring to joint pain or joint disease. Common arthritis joint symptoms include swelling, pain, stiffness and decreased range of motion. Symptoms may come and go, and be mild, moderate or severe. They may stay about the same for years, but may progress or get worse over time.
Severe arthritis can result in chronic pain, inability to do daily activities and difficulty walking or climbing stairs. Arthritis can cause permanent joint changes. These changes may be visible, such as knobby finger joints, but often the damage can only be seen on an X-ray. Some types of arthritis also affect the heart, eyes, lungs, kidneys and skin as well as the joints.
Common types of arthritis include:
- Osteoarthritis, the most common type of arthritis, where the cartilage – the slick, cushioning surface on the ends of bones – wears away and bone rubs against bone, causing pain, swelling and stiffness. Over time, joints can lose strength and pain may become chronic. Risk factors include excess weight, family history, age and previous injury (an anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL, tear, for example). Maintain a healthy weight to help prevent Osteoarthritis.
- Inflammatory arthritis, where the immune system can go awry, mistakenly attacking the joints with uncontrolled inflammation, potentially causing joint erosion and possibly damaging internal organs, eyes and other parts of the body. Rheumatoid arthritis and psoriatic arthritis are examples of inflammatory arthritis. Smoking is an example of an environmental risk factor that can trigger rheumatoid arthritis in people with certain genes. Early diagnosis and aggressive treatment is critical. Tip: Do not smoke.
- Infectious Arthritis, whereby a bacterium, virus or fungus enter the joint and trigger inflammation. This includes salmonella and shigella (food poisoning or contamination), chlamydia and gonorrhea (sexually transmitted diseases) and hepatitis C (a blood-to-blood infection, often through shared needles or transfusions). In many cases, timely treatment with antibiotics may clear the joint infection, but sometimes the arthritis becomes chronic.
- Metabolic Arthritis, where uric acid forms as the body breaks down purines, a substance found in human cells and in many foods. Some people have high levels of uric acid because they naturally produce more than is needed or the body can’t get rid of the uric acid quickly enough. In some people the uric acid builds up and forms needle-like crystals in the joint, resulting in sudden spikes of extreme joint pain, or a gout attack. Gout can come and go in episodes or, if uric acid levels aren’t reduced, can become chronic, causing ongoing pain and disability. Eating a healthful diet, low in sugar, alcohol and purines, will help prevent Metabolic Arthritis.
Treatment for arthritis can include medication (prescription, over-the-counter and natural therapies), diet, exercise and joint surgery.
- Sugar contains added calories with no essential nutrients
There are no proteins, essential fats, vitamins or minerals in sugar – just pure energy. A diet that includes 10 – 20 percent of calories as sugar can contribute to nutrient deficiencies. When up to 10 – 20% or more of your calories come from sugar, this can become a major problem and contribute to nutrient deficiencies.
- Sugar can overload your liver
Before sugar enters the bloodstream from the digestive tract, it is broken down into two simple sugars – glucose and fructose. If we don’t get glucose from the diet, our bodies produce it. Fructose,however, is different. Our bodies do not produce it in any significant amount and there is no physiological need for it. If the liver is full of glycogen, eating a lot of fructose overloads the liver, forcing it to turn the fructose into fat. This can lead to fatty liver and a number of serious health problems.
- Sugar can lead to diabetes
Insulin is a very important hormone in the body. It allows glucose (blood sugar) to enter cells from the bloodstream and tells the cells to start burning glucose instead of fat. When people eat a lot of sugar, it can cause resistance to the hormone insulin. When our cells become resistant to the effects of insulin, the beta cells in the pancreas make more of it. As insulin resistance becomes progressively worse, the pancreas can’t keep up with the demand of producing enough insulin to keep blood sugar levels down. At this point, blood sugar levels skyrocket (which leads to the diagnosis of diabetes). It is not surprising that studies show that people who drink sugar-sweetened beverages increase their risk of diabetes by more than 80 percent.
- Sugar can cause cancer
Cancer is characterized by uncontrolled growth and multiplication of cells – and insulin is one of the key hormones in regulating this sort of growth. Many scientists believe that having constantly elevated insulin levels (a consequence of sugar consumption) can contribute to cancer. In addition, the metabolic problems associated with sugar consumption are a known driver of inflammation, another potential cause of cancer.
- Sugar is highly addictive
Sugar can be addictive. Like abusive drugs, sugar causes a release of dopamine in the reward center of the brain. People who have a susceptibility to addiction can become strongly addicted to sugar and other junk foods.
- Sugar is a leading contributor to obesity
Not surprisingly, people who consume the most sugar are the most likely to become overweight or obese. One of the most important things you can do if you need to lose weight is to significantly cut back on your sugar consumption.
- Sugar raises your cholesterol and gives you heart disease
The evidence is mounting that sugar, NOT fat, may be one of the leading drivers of heart disease. Studies show that large amounts of fructose can raise triglycerides, small, dense LDL and oxidized LDL, raise blood glucose and insulin levels, and increase abdominal obesity – all major risk factors for heart disease.
If you have type 2 diabetes, one of the biggest concerns you’re likely to face is diabetic foot ulcers.
As many as 70 percent of diabetics have mild to severe forms of nervous system damage which can cause impaired sensation or pain in their feet. Of all lower limb amputations in the U.S., nearly 70 percent are the result of diabetes – with four out of five of these amputations preceded by a foot ulcer.
Effective foot care management can make a big difference. This begins with routine foot care and evaluation, as it’s easier to fix something before the condition worsens.
Part of the problem is that diabetics, because of nerve system damage, don’t necessarily feel foot pain and so tend to ignore a problem until it’s too late. Since normal sweat secretion and oil production that lubricates the skin of the feet is often impaired, abnormal pressure on the skin, bones and joints of the feet during walking can lead to a breakdown of the skin and foot sores. Bacterial infection of the skin, connective tissues, muscles and bones may then occur. Since diabetics are prone to poor circulation, antibiotics cannot get to the infection site easily.
Prevention starts with inspecting your feet daily, seeing if there are cuts, cracks, redness, bruises, or swelling. Medical guidelines recommend that diabetics routinely see a foot specialist for an examination at least once a year. Experts can evaluate and get you the proper shoes to prevent breakdowns.
Recent studies have shown that a proper foot care program can reduce amputations by as much as 85 percent. This includes the use of therapeutic footwear.
- Wash your feet daily in lukewarm water and dry them gently.
- Carefully trim your toenails regularly (and follow-up with a foot specialist).
- Keep the skin on your feet soft and smooth.
- Don’t go barefoot (even around the house).
- Wear clean, dry socks – made from such fabrics as cotton and acrylic fibers (that pull sweat away from the skin); avoid nylon socks or those with tight elastic bands.
- Buy shoes that fit properly (and speak to a foot doctor about special shoes that fit the exact shape of your feet, cushion them and evenly distribute your weight).
- If you smoke, stop – smoking impairs circulation and reduces the amount of oxygen in the blood.
- Take any foot injuries or changes to the skin very seriously.
- Maintain a healthy diet, exercise regularly, and carefully monitor your blood sugar.
While great strides have been made over the years, the bad news is that heart disease remains the leading cause of death among men and women in the United States. Every year, 1 in 4 deaths are caused by heart disease.
What can you do to prevent you or a loved one becoming another statistic? Here are some important steps to take:
- Ask your doctor what your blood pressure should be. People with high blood pressure are four times more likely to die from a stroke and three times more likely to die from heart disease. Since high blood pressure often shows no signs or symptoms, having your blood pressure checked regularly is very important. Once you find out your blood pressure, discuss with your doctor how you can best meet your goal.
- Quit smoking – and if you don’t smoke, don’t start. Smoking is not only a major risk factor for cancer, but for cardiovascular disease as well.
- Start eating healthier. At the top of the list is reducing your sodium intake. Most Americans consume too much sodium, which can raise blood pressure. In addition, start eating plenty of fruits and vegetables. Know your cholesterol and triglyceride levels and keep them under control.
- Get off the couch! Regardless of your age, it is important to exercise regularly. This doesn’t necessarily mean running marathons. Walking every day can make a difference.
- Get tested for diabetes. Many people who have prediabetes, and even diabetes, are not aware they have it. If you do have it, you need to keep it under control.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Obesity is a leading risk factor for diabetes and heart disease. If you’re overweight, talk to your doctor about starting on a safe weight loss plan.
The good news about heart health is that cardiovascular disease is largely preventable. By following these steps, you can greatly improve your odds.
The holiday season is upon us, which can be the best of times and the worst of times.
It’s a time of the year, in fact, that can often be stressful and disappointing. For many, there can be feelings of sadness and depression, particularly for those who have lost loved ones.
While it’s a myth that suicide is more common around the holidays – statistics show that spring is actually the peak time – this can be a particularly difficult time for those prone to depression.
Social isolation is one of the biggest predictors of depression.
Mental health professionals say that people who are lonely or have feelings of disconnectedness often avoid social interactions at this time of year. Unfortunately, this can make things worse. Many see other people spending time with friends and family and ask themselves, “Why can’t that be me?” or “Why is everyone else so much happier?”
Holidays can be difficult because they often bring back memories of friends and family members who are gone. In addition, the disappointment over not being able to enjoy the holidays may add to one’s depression.
Mental health experts encourage people to follow these practical tips:
- Acknowledge your feelings. Don’t force yourself to be happy just because it’s the holiday season.
- Reach out. If you feel lonely or isolated, seek out community, work-related, religious or other social events that will offer support and companionship. Volunteering your time to help others can be a good way to lift your spirits.
- Avoid conflict with family and friends. Try to accept family members and friends as they are, even if they don’t live up to your expectations. Try to set aside any grievances.
- Stick to a budget. Don’t try to buy happiness by purchasing gifts you can’t afford.
- Plan ahead. Set aside specific days for shopping, visiting friends and other activities.
- Learn to say “no.” Saying “yes” when you should say “no” can leave you feeling resentful and overwhelmed. Friends and family will understand if you can’t participate in every project or activity.
- Learn to grieve. If the holidays remind you of a loved one, it’s a good time to discuss your feelings or find help by joining a support group.
- Don’t abandon healthy habits. Don’t let the holidays become a free-for-all. Overindulgence will only add to your unhappiness. Make sure to eat properly, exercise, and get the proper amount of sleep.
- Take a breather. Make some time for yourself. This may include listening to soothing music, getting a massage, or reading a book.
Depression at this time of year, or any time for that matter, should not be ignored. If these feelings last, it’s time to talk to your doctor or a mental health professional.
Here are some tips for helping an elderly person with depression.
Creative expression benefits seniors in many ways, including those with dementia. Imagination and creativity can flourish despite cognitive difficulties. New areas of potential can even be discovered that were never before realized. According to Barbara Bagan PhD., older adults are in the final developmental stage where they must integrate their past, present, and future life experiences. When meaningful activities are pursued, seniors can achieve growth while overcoming feelings of longing and despair. Expressive art can also boost neural pathways by forging new and stronger dendrite connections which fight the effects of degenerative disease.
10 Reasons to use Art Therapy
- Promotes relaxation. To strengthen this effect, create ambience with soft music and minimum background noise.
- Provides means of expression and communication. When words fail, art can provide a means to communicate and express experiences. Creating art can also be a wonderful time to invite your loved one to communicate with you verbally. Creativity may cause a usually quiet person to become more talkative.
- Provides a sense of control. Avoid “taking over” or imposing assistance if it is not needed, by being sensitive about when to offer help. Make sure to recognize accomplishments, and avoid overly long creative sessions that might cause tiredness or frustration.
- Improves socialization. When possible, group art activities can enhance feelings of social connection. If a group is not available, join in and make art together. Display your loved one’s art work where it can be seen.
- Promotes playfulness and humor. Keep a light heart and look for moments to encourage play and humor.
- Boosts cognitive functioning. Make the most of it by choosing a time of day when your loved one is at their best level of alertness and focus.
- Stimulates the senses. Working with one’s hands in a variety of mediums and textures can provide an abundance of tactile stimulation. When possible, enhance this experience by taking your art session outdoors or near an open window. Play his or her favorite music. Create items that can stimulate the senses long after they are completed, through textures, scents, or memory recall.
- Strengthens identity and self-esteem. Offer compliments and keep completed artwork displayed.
- Engage Spirituality. When thinking of ideas for free-expression, provide prompts that invite your loved one to connect with spiritual concepts and values that are meaningful to them.
- Alleviates boredom. Creative sessions don’t have to be initiated on a schedule. When possible, make materials accessible to your loved one so he or she can choose art activities at will.
You don’t have to break the bank. Art supplies can be quite inexpensive, and remember, the activities you choose don’t have to be complicated. Drawing, painting, or collage may be just the right thing, but really, the possibilities are endless. Beautifully designed coloring books for adults are now available which can provide hours of relaxation with just a handful of markers or colored pencils. If your loved one has a previous art hobby or interest, this may be the perfect time to encourage renewed interest. If not, providing a variety of new activities could result in a newly discovered passion. Remember to use caution and avoid unsupervised use of materials that could be a safety hazard. And don’t forget to allow opportunities for your loved one to experience and appreciate art created by others. A local co-op or museum may be a great choice for your next outing.
Not long ago, a documentary clip went viral. It featured the story of Henry, an elderly man with dementia who sat locked inside himself day after day… until they placed headphones over his ears and let him hear the music he loved during his youth. Suddenly, everything changed.
One of the greatest challenges the elderly face is a lost sense of belonging, independence, freedom, and enjoyment. These unmet needs result in feelings of isolation, sadness, and loss. For those suffering from Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia, the inability to communicate this experience can be both complex and devastating.
Music therapy is a powerful tool in caregiving. According to the Alzheimer’s Foundation, music can trigger lost memories, promote communication and movement, manage anxiety, stimulate creativity, and renew identity. Simply stated, music has the power to reach across the barrier of time and functional limitations to evoke joy and vitality. Keep reading to learn how you can share this wonderful therapy with your elderly loved one.
Six Tips for Using Music Therapy to Help Your Elderly Loved One
Explore their music history. Old hymns, swing, and wartime songs are often favorites among the elderly; however, take care to avoid songs that bring up unpleasant memories. Because of the powerful associations music creates, it can sometimes return someone to an experience that was emotionally painful. Watch for signs of distress. If this occurs, stop the song immediately and move on to something else.
Compile a playlist. An iPod or other type of mp3 device can be a great way to amass a variety of songs that can be played easily through a small speaker or headphones. Playlists can be grouped by themes for specific moods and activities.
Make music accessible. When possible, allow the person access to the player as a source of comfort when needed. As always, use good judgment to avoid any risk of the person becoming entangled in the cords. If mobility or confusion is an issue, close supervision may be necessary.
Play music during exercise. Listening to music while walking may help improve gait, and it can encourage interest in other types of exercise.
Create an ambiance. Using background music during the general day-to-day can enhance mood. Make a special playlist of calming music to reduce sundowning, anxiety, or problems with behavior.
Encourage drumming and sing-alongs. Music can promote a sense of emotional connection. Use facial expression to engage and communicate with the person through the sound of the music.
Visit the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America for more information about using music therapy with the elderly. If you’d like more ideas on how to improve an elderly person’s quality of life, check out our post on pet therapy.
A therapy pet can be a powerful member of the caregiver team. It has been well established that pets can lower the risk of heart attack and increase survival rates in those who have suffered heart attack, but research shows there are many more additional benefits.
When humans interact with animals, there is a resulting increase in the production of serotonin, prolactin, and oxytocin – the “good” hormones responsible for improving mood. Further, levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, are decreased.
These hormonal changes result in a sense of well-being which helps improve depression, agitation, social interaction, engagement, and even nutritional intake.
Taking walks with a dog tends to motivate seniors to walk farther, thereby increasing their level of physical activity. In situations where mobility is reduced, talking to or petting an animal can still lower heart rate, improve vital signs, and has been shown to reduce the need for medication.
If you are considering pet therapy for yourself or an elderly loved one, here are some tips that may help:
Make the decision together. Situations vary and people age differently. Full pet ownership may not be suitable for every situation, and the right pet should be paired with the right person. A decision to get a pet should not be forced on the elderly person. For some, pet ownership may not be the answer. The services of a professional therapy pet may be a better choice.
Does the person have disabilities? In some cases, dogs may not be a good fit for someone with major physical limitations. Indoor pets that need less care, such as cats or birds may be a better fit. In cases of significant impairments, your loved one may be a candidate for a service animal to aid in functioning.
Age, Size, and Temperament. When matching a pet to an elderly person, it is important to consider the animal’s unique temperament, care and grooming needs, training, physical size, and remaining life expectancy. A young puppy or kitten may require too much training and lack the maturity to be a suitable companion. While much older pets may have more health problems that could result in expensive veterinary bills and medications. A plan should be in place to determine who will care for the animal if it outlives its owner.
Financial Considerations. Some pets are more expensive than others to maintain. Consider the costs involved for each type of pet, not just for initial cost, but also ongoing care and maintenance. Adopting a pet from your local shelter may be a more affordable choice. Shelter workers or foster owners often become very familiar with each animal’s personality and may be able to assist in making a good match. Additionally, some shelters offer discounts to seniors. For instance, Idaho Humane Society offers a discount to people over the age of 60.
Pet Sharing. If acquiring a full time pet for your loved one is too impractical, consider “borrowing” someone else’s pet. Do you or a close friend have a dog or other pet that is well socialized and up for a house call? Consider bringing the pet for regular visits with your elderly loved one. Recent studies have even shown that watching cat videos online can boost energy and reduce sadness and anxiety.
Click here to download the PDF, Tips for Caregivers: Deciding if Pet Therapy is Right for Your Loved One. For more information, including research about pets and seniors, visit Pets for the Elderly
Sundowner’s syndrome, most commonly called sundowning, affects some twenty percent of people who have Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. People with dementia who “sundown” get confused and agitated as the sun goes down — and sometimes through the night.
Sundowning may prevent people with dementia from sleeping well. It may also make them more likely to wander. Due to the stress it puts on caregivers, sundowning is one of the leading causes of caregiver burnout. As a caregiver for someone dealing with sundowning, it is important to know the symptoms to help understand what you are going to be contending with. Read the rest of this entry »
Everyone feels blue now and then. It’s part of life. But if you no longer enjoy activities that you usually like, you may have a more serious problem. Being depressed without letup can change the way you think and feel. This is called “clinical depression.”
Being “down in the dumps” over a period of time is not a normal part of getting older. But it is a common problem, and medical help may be needed. For most people, depression will get better with treatment. “Talk” therapy, medicine, or other treatment methods can ease the pain of depression. You do not need to suffer.
There is a similarity between the symptoms of depression and dementia but the two are completely different. Sometimes the signs of depression can mask themselves and appear as if it’s dementia. Knowing the signs can help differentiate the two. Read the rest of this entry »