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What is Arthritis? Know how treatment differs between young and old patients

Arthritis affects people across the lifespan, but the approach to treatment must be tailored to the unique needs of different age groups. By understanding and addressing the distinct needs of young and old arthritis patients, healthcare providers can offer more effective individualised care.

Written By: Kristina Das @https://twitter.com/KristinaDas2 New Delhi Published on: June 22, 2024 14:47 IST
arthritis treatment differs between young and old patients
Image Source : FREEPIK Know how arthritis treatment differs between young and old patients.

Arthritis is a common condition that affects people of all ages, causing pain, swelling, and stiffness in the joints. While it is often associated with older adults, young people, including children and teenagers, can also suffer from arthritis. The approach to treating arthritis can vary significantly depending on the patient’s age and their health conditions. This article explores how treatment differs for young and old patients, highlighting the unique considerations for each age group.

Understanding Arthritis in Different Age Groups

When he spoke to Dr Veerendra Mudnoor, MBBS, MS(ORTHO),  FIJR, FIAS, Joint replacement & Arthroscopy surgeon, Apollo Spectra Hospitals, Hyderabad, regarding the same, he said that arthritis is not a single disease but a term that covers over 100 different types of joint disorders. The two most common forms are Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis. Osteoarthritis is more prevalent among older adults and is typically caused by the wear and tear of joint cartilage over time. Rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease, can affect people of any age, including children (where it is referred to as juvenile rheumatoid arthritis or juvenile idiopathic arthritis).

Approach and Treatment for Younger Patients:

Early Diagnosis and Specialized Care

For young patients, early diagnosis is crucial. Children and teenagers may not be able to articulate their symptoms as clearly as adults, making it essential for parents and doctors to be vigilant. Pediatric rheumatologists, specialists in treating arthritis in children, play a key role in early diagnosis and treatment.

Medications and Physical Therapy

Young patients are often treated with medications similar to those used for adults, including nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to reduce pain and inflammation. In more severe cases, disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) and biologics may be prescribed to slow disease progression and prevent joint damage. However, dosages and formulations are carefully adjusted for children’s smaller bodies and different metabolic rates.

Physical therapy is also a cornerstone of treatment for young arthritis patients. Exercises are tailored to strengthen muscles around the joints, improve flexibility, and maintain a healthy weight. Physical therapists often incorporate fun activities to keep children engaged and motivated.

Psychosocial Support

Living with a chronic condition like arthritis can be challenging for young patients, affecting their mental and emotional well-being. Support groups, counselling, and educational programs help children and their families cope with the condition. Schools may need to provide accommodations to ensure that children with arthritis can participate fully in academic and extracurricular activities.

Approach and Treatment for Older Patients:

Comprehensive Care and Multidisciplinary Approach

For older adults, arthritis treatment often requires a comprehensive approach involving a team of healthcare providers, including primary care physicians, rheumatologists, physical therapists, and sometimes orthopaedic surgeons. This multidisciplinary approach ensures that all aspects of the patient’s health are addressed, from managing pain and improving joint function to addressing comorbid conditions like heart disease or diabetes.

Medications and Joint Health

Medications remain a cornerstone of arthritis treatment in older adults. NSAIDs, DMARDs, and biologics are commonly used, but care must be taken to avoid side effects, particularly given that older adults are often on multiple medications for other health issues. Regular monitoring and adjustments are crucial to avoid drug interactions and complications.

For many older patients, maintaining joint health and mobility is a top priority. Weight management, a balanced diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods, and regular, low-impact exercise such as swimming or walking can help reduce symptoms and improve quality of life. Physical therapy continues to play a significant role, in helping older adults maintain strength and flexibility and preventing falls.

Surgical Interventions

In cases where conservative treatments are insufficient, surgical options like joint replacement may be considered. Hip and knee replacements are common procedures that can significantly improve mobility and reduce pain in older arthritis patients. These surgeries, however, come with risks and require a thorough evaluation of the patient’s overall health and ability to undergo rehabilitation.

Tailoring Treatment to Individual Needs

Regardless of age, effective arthritis treatment is highly personalized. What works for one patient may not work for another, making it essential to tailor treatment plans to individual needs and circumstances. For young patients, the focus is often on managing symptoms, preventing long-term joint damage, and supporting normal growth and development. For older adults, the goals may include pain relief, maintaining independence, and improving quality of life.

The Role of Lifestyle and Self-Management

Both young and old arthritis patients benefit from self-management strategies. Education about the condition, joint protection techniques, and coping strategies for managing pain and fatigue are vital components of comprehensive arthritis care. Encouraging a healthy lifestyle, including regular physical activity, a balanced diet, and avoiding smoking, can make a significant difference in managing arthritis symptoms and overall health.

Conclusion

For young patients, early diagnosis, appropriate medication, physical therapy, and psychosocial support are critical. For older adults, a comprehensive, multidisciplinary approach, careful medication management, and potentially surgical interventions are key to maintaining mobility and quality of life. 

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