Does cold weather really cause arthritis in elderly?
Freezing atmosphere, friend or foe for the elderly?
Just last month, Singapore broke its lowest temperature record since 2016 by dropping to a low of 21.1 deg C. Sadly for some, gone are the days when we could finally wear our autumn and winter clothes out on the streets in Singapore, flaunting those knitted scarfs and timberland boots.
However, not all welcomed the cold weather. Cold or rainy weather is often said to trigger arthritis aches and pain in the elders, some even swear by the pain in their joints as a predictor of rainy or cold weather. Does cold weather really cause arthritis pain and what can we do as caregivers of elders suffering from Arthritis?
What is Arthritis?
Arthritis, might be more commonly known as 风湿 in Singapore, is not a single condition; it is a general term which refers to the inflammation of joints. It causes pain, swelling, warmth or stiffness in the joint(s) such as those in fingers, knees, and hip.
Contrary to popular belief, arthritis is not an old age disease, anyone from as young as 6 months old may develop arthritis. If not treated early, the joints of arthritis sufferers can become stiff or deformed, resulting in decreased mobility and increased disability that will reduce their quality of life.
Types of Arthritis and its causes
Two most common types of arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Redness, pain, tenderness, and swelling of the joint suffered by your elderly loved ones may very likely be osteoarthritis as it is caused by the “wear and tear” of the joint(s) that increased in age. Hence, osteoarthritis is more common among the elderly although young people may also suffer from it, especially if they have had a significant injury to the joint. Statistically, the rate of osteoarthritis tends to increase sharply after the age of 50, it affects both men and women; with women having a higher rate.
On the other hand, rheumatoid arthritis is a disease of the immune system in which the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the joints, causing pain, stiffness and swelling in the affected joints. The continual attack by the immune system eventually causes damage to the joints. As the condition progresses, the inflammation, pain and stiffness of the joints tend to increase in severity, ultimately leading to deformity of joints and a loss of overall mobility.
As opposed to osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis is not linked to the age of a person. Patients can acquire rheumatoid arthritis at any age, though it appears most commonly between the age of 25 and 40 and women are 3 times more likely than men to develop the condition. You may find out more about other types of arthritis here.
So… does cold weather really cause Arthritis pain?
Till date, researchers are still divided over the link between arthritis and bad weather and the exact reason to why cold weather trigger arthritis pain is still unknown. Some studies suggest that cold weather may trigger pain sensitivity due to the increased flow of blood in the affected body joint while others found links between reduced physical activities in cold weather and aggravated arthritis.
What can we do as caregivers?
Although at present there is no cure for most types of arthritis, there is still much that we can do as caregivers for our elders suffering from arthritis. Here are some guidelines:
See a doctor early
Like any other illness/symptoms, it is important not to self-diagnose or medicate. Always seek professional advice and do it early! The condition may get worse if you or your elders just “put up” with the pain. Find out where to seek treatment here.
Take medicine as prescribed diligently
If medication is prescribed by the doctor, do not change the dosage or stop the medicines on your own. Caregivers can also help by monitoring their elderly loved ones and report any side effects immediately to the doctor.
Attend physiotherapy session
Most sufferers of arthritis cut down on their daily movements in response to the pain and stiffness in their joints. This leads to weakening of the muscles and ligaments surrounding the joint area, and exacerbation of the problem. Physiotherapy can help build up the strength of the surrounding muscles so that they can hold up the joint better, lessening the stress and strain that is exerted on the joint.
Exercise regularly and maintain proper diet
Encourage regular exercise and proper diet, especially if the sufferer is overweight. Excess weight puts pressure on joints already under strain, so maintaining a healthy weight is especially important for people who suffer from Arthritis.
Stay positive and active
This is the most important health hack not just for arthritis sufferer but for people of all ages! Most types of arthritis only cause occasional problems. With proper management, you or your elderly loved ones should be able to lead a satisfying and independent life. Be positive!
By Teo Meijun
Meijun is a typical Singaporean who loves teh si siew dai and latte (when she has a bit more to splurge). As she grows older, she naturally assumes the role of the main caregiver of her elderly parents and quickly realised it is not an easy feat. Hence, she likes to share what she knows through her caregiving experience and hopes that the information would be helpful for young Singaporean caregivers of their aged loved ones. Meijun enjoys hiking, cycling, swimming and listening to music. She is also very intrigue by the field of psychology and loves cats.