Are Elderly Inhibited by Rheumatoid Arthritis?
February 08, 2005
By: Laurie Edwards for Knee1
When it comes to performing typical daily activities, elderly patients who suffer from rheumatoid arthritis (RA) have no more difficulty than elderly people who don’t have the debilitating condition, according to Finnish researchers.
In patients with RA, the immune system mistakenly attacks the joints and tissues surrounding them, leading to pain, inflammation and over time, degeneration. Though the exact cause of RA is unknown, experts believe that certain “triggers”—viral or bacterial infections, genetic predispositions and environmental factors—initiate this faulty autoimmune response.
About 1.5 million Americans suffer from RA, and it is three times as likely to occur in women as men. This recent study, performed at the Rheumatism Foundation Hospital in Heinola, analyzed the health data of 600 adults over the age of 75 in one Finnish town. Sixteen of the participants had previously been diagnosed with RA.
Researchers measured the ability of participants to perform tasks such as walking, climbing stairs, bathing and dressing. Using a standard scale that assesses independence in these activities, they found that over half of the RA patients received the highest possible score, compared to a rating of 40 percent for the rest of the group.
These results suggest that progressive treatments for RA have proven to be effective in both delaying and minimizing the severity of this autoimmune disorder. Treatments include anti-inflammatory medications and those that alleviate pain, as well as disease-modifying drugs that help interrupt the disease’s progress.
Exercise and activity is also an important component in treating RA. Experts recommend physical therapy to strengthen weakened joints and tissues and in more severe cases, surgery and prosthetic replacements that restore joint functioning in patients.
Experts also found that three of the participants with RA—nineteen percent—were considered severely disabled, as compared to just four percent of the non-RA adults. In these cases, the research team reported in the Annals of Rheumatic Diseases that severe disability was “strongly associated with the presence of dementia.”
Lead researcher Dr. Markuu Kauppi noted that elderly adults who have RA do not face an increased risk of dementia. In fact, there is evidence that RA patients may even have a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease than non-RA patients.
There is a way to explain this connection between RA, dementia and disability, according to Kauppi. People dealing with the degenerative effects of RA need to accommodate for their weakened joints by performing specific treatment protocols, whether it is adhering to physical therapy instructions or utilizing devices that help them move around.
“Dementia may make it impossible for an RA patient to find solutions to daily problems and to compensate [for] joint destruction,” Kauppi said.