Aging with Osteoarthritis
There are many theories as to why people age; whether aging is programmed into our DNA or that the body experiences “wear-and-tear” over the years. What is clear is as a person ages beyond their 60’s and 70’s there are physiological changes that occur like shifts in body composition and sensory changes (Brown, 2014). These changes include declining muscle mass, balance issues, decreased vision, cataracts, hearing difficulties and so on. As a result of these changes, older adults become vulnerable to nutritional risk factors, deficiencies, and their complications.
Osteoarthritis (OA) is common among population of age 65 and older as it affects about 33% of the population (Brown, 2014). Osteoarthritis is an inflammatory disease of the joints that causes great pain and often leads to loss of mobility. As there is no cure for this inflammatory disease, its advanced stage could pose a great risk to a person’s nutritional health as it can affect their mental wellbeing, inability to feed themselves or carry out activities of daily living. Due to often severe pain that leads to limited mobility, persons affected will gain excess weight that can further exacerbate this condition as well as cause other nutritional imbalances such as hyperlipidemia (high cholesterol), insulin resistance (type 2 diabetes), increased blood sugar levels, as well as depressed mood attributed to loss of independence and chronic pain.
Though osteoarthritis is not related to osteoporosis, mending any vitamin D deficiency could potentially delay progression of OA. Further, anti-oxidants that act to reduce inflammation and an anti-inflammatory diet such as the Mediterranean diet can help to alleviate some of the pain or delay progression (Brown, 2014). Studies have also shown that prescribed exercise can have beneficial effects of pain reduction for those affected by osteoarthritis, though exercise adherence in patients tends to decline over time and as pain increases (Bennell et al., 2014). Still, studies show that in fact exercise can help to maintain joint health by preserving range of motion, and functional performance as well as weight management and reducing inflammation (Hunter & Eckstein, 2009). Given this research, exercise is a great method of prevention and delaying onset of OA but it can also serve to diminish the pain and its inflammatory state when exercise is maintained despite OA onset.
While there is no cure for OA, conservative treatment includes non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID’s) as a form of pain management, commonly found over the counter like Advil, Aleve, Tylenol, and Ibuprofen. This strategy is often prescribed in addition to physical therapy in order to keep the joints moving and mobile. Some studies have even shown that consistent exercise can decrease pain and replace the need for NSAID’s (Bennell et al., 2014). Until we find a cure for aging and the ailments that accompany the process, stay active, keep moving and eat well.
Bennell, K., Dobson, F., Hinman, R. (Feb 2014). Exercise in Osteoarthritis: Moving from Prescription to Adherence. Best Practice & Research Clinical Rheumatology, 28 (1), pp. 93-117.
Brown, Judith (2014). Nutrition Through the Life Cycle (5th ed.). Stamford, CT: Cengage Learning.
Hunter, David & Eckstein, Felix (Feb 1, 2009). Exercise and Osteoarthritis. Journal of Anatomy, 214, pp. 197-207.