Most Common Health Issues for Seniors

Most Common Health Issues for Seniors text overlaying image of a senior talking with her doctor As you age, you’ll start to face new health problems, and old ones become harder to treat. Thankfully, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), seniors today can expect to live longer and healthier than ever before. That doesn’t mean you don’t have to be careful with your health though. Taking steps like quitting smoking, losing weight, and eating healthier can help you avoid the most common health issues that seniors face.

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  • Heart Disease

Heart disease is one of the most common health problems that seniors have to deal with. There are a range of conditions that fall into the heart disease category:


  • Blood vessel diseases
  • Arrhythmias (irregular heartbeat)
  • Congenital heart defects
  • Heart muscle disease
  • Heart valve disease

Heart diseases are also called “silent killers” because they don’t always have obvious outward signs. You have a higher risk of heart disease if you have diabetes, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol. 

Heart Disease Symptoms

Heart disease symptoms vary depending on what types of disease it is:

Blood Vessel Disease Symptoms

Coronary artery disease is a common heart problem that affects the main blood vessels that bring blood to the heart muscle. Most of the time, coronary artery disease is caused by cholesterol buildup (plaque) in the heart’s vessels. This plaque build up can lead to the heart and other parts of your body getting less blood. Which can lead to heart attacks, angina, or stroke. Men and women can have different signs of coronary artery disease. For example, men more commonly experience chest pain while women are more likely to have nausea, fatigue, and shortness of breath. Other symptoms include:


  • Chest tightness
  • Chest pressure
  • Pain in the neck, jaw, throat, upper abdomen, or back
  • Numbness, pain, weakness in your legs or arms

Coronary artery disease might not be found until you have a heart attack or stroke. It’s important to keep an eye out for any of these symptoms and talk to your doctor about them. If you mention it early enough the disease can be found and treated early.

Arrhythmia Symptoms

Arrhythmia is when your heart is beating too fast or slow in an abnormal way. In general, heart arrhythmias can lead to problems like stroke, sudden death, and heart failure. Blood clots are more likely to happen in people with heart problems. If a clot breaks free, it can move from your heart to your brain and cause a stroke. Some signs of arrhythmia are:


  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Chest flutters
  • Lightheadedness
  • Racing heartbeat
  • Shortness of breath
  • Slow heartbeat

Congenital Heart Defect Symptoms

Adult congenital heart disease (ACHD) is a group of disorders that affect the structure of your heart and are present at birth. “Congenital” means that the problem was there when the baby was born. It happened while the baby was still in the womb. These diseases can change how your heart pumps blood. They are also called birth defects of the heart.


Heart problems that are present at birth can be mild or very dangerous. Depending on the type of heart disease and how bad it is, signs may not show up until a person is an adult. Some people never feel anything at all. And some people were treated for these conditions when they were kids, only to have long-term effects as adults. Symptoms include:


  • Blue tints to fingernails, lips, and skin
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Heart murmur
  • Heart palpitations
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Shortness of breath
  • Swelling in your ankles, feet, or hands

Heart Muscle Disease Symptoms

Heart muscle disease, or cardiomyopathy, makes it harder for senior’s heart to pump blood to the rest of your body. Cardiomyopathy can cause the heart to stop working. There are 3 types of cardiomyopathy: dilated, hypertrophic, and restrictive. Depending on the type of cardiomyopathy and how bad it is, treatment might include medicines, device implants, surgery or in the worst case heart transplant. Symptoms include:


  • Breathlessness
  • Swelling in your legs, ankles, and feet
  • Bloating
  • Coughing
  • Difficulty lying down
  • Fatigue
  • Chest discomfort
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting

Heart Valve Condition Symptoms

The aorta, mitral, pulmonary, and tricuspid valves are the four valves in the heart. They open and close to help the heart pump blood. Many things can hurt the valves in the heart. A heart valve can become narrowed (stenosis), leaky (regurgitation or weakness), or not close properly (prolapse).


Heart valve disease is another name for valve heart disease. Depending on which valve isn’t working right, the signs of heart valve disease are usually:


  • Chest pain
  • Fainting (syncope)
  • Fatigue
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Shortness of breath
  • Swollen feet or ankles

Medicare And Heart Disease

Medicare Part B pays for heart disease blood tests every 5 years if your doctor orders them. You don’t necessarily have to have any signs of heart disease to get these tests done, you can have them just as a precaution if you’d like. Original Medicare pays 100% of the Medicare-approved amount for screening blood tests for heart disease. This means you don’t have to pay anything. Medicare Advantage plans have to cover heart disease screenings without deductibles, copayments, or coinsurance if you see a provider in their network.


During your heart disease check, your doctor may find something new or old that needs to be looked into or fixed. This extra care is diagnostic, which means that your doctor is treating you because of some signs or risk factors. During a preventive visit, Medicare may charge you for any medical care you get.


  • Obesity

As the number of seniors in the U.S grows, so does the obesity rate. According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, more than one-third of seniors were considered obese. Research has shown that obesity puts older people at risk for a wide range of health problems. When a person is overweight, their organs are put under extra stress, which makes it hard for them to work properly. If you are obese as a senior, you are more likely to have health problems like:


  • Diabetes
  • Hypertension
  • Respiratory problems
  • Arthritis
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Cancer
  • Mobility issues
  • Body pain
  • Gallbladder disease

Additionally, obesity has been shown to cause depression and a low quality of life. Depression in old age can put you at a higher risk for heart disease and other serious health complications.

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Medicare and Obesity

Recent changes to Medicare Part B are a big step toward getting doctors and patients alike to see obesity as a serious health problem. So, beneficiaries with a BMI (body mass index) of 30 or more can get free obesity screenings and behavioral therapy through the Intensive Behavioral Therapy for Obesity program. Their services must be given by a doctor, nurse practitioner, physician’s assistant, or clinical nurse specialist. Covered services include:


  • Initial BMI assessment
  • Nutritional evaluation
  • Ongoing weight loss and dietary counseling


Medicare only pays for visits that take place in a primary care setting as part of the Intensive Behavioral Therapy program. If your doctor tells you to see someone else, like a chef, you’ll have to pay for those services yourself. Some Medicare Advantage (Part C) plans give you more benefits, which can help you lose weight. These plans may cover gym memberships and subscriptions to exercise programs like SilverSneakers, an app for older people that helps them stay fit. For a short time, some Medicare Advantage plans may also cover the delivery of healthy meals to your home.


Medicare will pay for bariatric surgery if your doctor says you need it because you are very overweight (BMI of 35 or higher). In most cases, you’ll need a certain BMI and at least one health problem connected to your weight, like diabetes or heart disease, in order to get coverage. You must also show that you have tried and failed to lose weight in the past by dieting or working out.

  • Diabetes

Diabetes affects about 33% of adults ages 65 and up. People in this age group are more likely than younger people with diabetes to get problems like hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), kidney failure, and heart disease. There is new knowledge that can help us better understand and treat diabetes in older people. Special things should be taken into account to help people’s general health and quality of life. Many older people have more than one condition at the same time, such as cognitive impairment, heart disease, and others that affect how they learn about and take care of their diabetes. 

Diabetes Symptoms

Diabetes can cause you to feel tired, hungry, or thirsty more often, to lose weight without trying, to urinate a lot, or to have trouble seeing clearly. You could also get skin diseases or take a long time to recover from cuts and bruises. Some people with diabetes may not know they have it because the signs usually come on slowly and are easy to miss. Seniors sometimes brush off these signs as “getting old,” but they could be signs of a major problem. If you have any of these signs, you should talk to your doctor.

Medicare And Diabetes

If you have been diagnosed with diabetes or have certain risk factors, you can rest easy knowing that Medicare Part B covers free diabetes screenings, prevention programs, supplies and nutrition therapy. So you won’t have to pay your deductible or the copayment for Part B, which is usually 20% of the cost of services paid by Medicare. Part B also pays for lessons on how to take care of your diabetes on your own, but you may have to pay the Part B deductible and copay.


You can get up to two diabetes checks a year for free if your doctor thinks you might get diabetes and you have any of the following risk factors:

  • High blood pressure
  • Abnormal cholesterol history
  • High blood sugar
  • Obesity

Or if you have 2 of more of these:

  • Are 65 or older
  • Had gestational diabetes during a pregnancy
  • BMI of 25-29.9
  • Parents or siblings with diabetes


One Medicare-covered diabetes prevention program can help you avoid type 2 diabetes, which often happens to people because of what they eat, how little they exercise, or how they live their lives. The program includes weekly group meetings for six months to help you change your diet, move more, and keep your weight in check, as well as six monthly follow-up meetings.


To be eligible, you must have certain amounts of glucose in your blood or plasma, a BMI of 25 or more, and no history of type 1 or type 2 diabetes. Part B needs you to go to a program put on by a Medicare Diabetes Prevention Program provider that has been approved.

Nutritional Therapy

If you have diabetes or kidney disease and your doctor tells you to go to nutrition therapy, you don’t have to worry. This service may include an initial nutrition and lifestyle exam, individual and group nutritional therapy, help with managing lifestyle factors that affect your diabetes, and follow-up visits. The nutrition therapy services must be given by a registered dietitian or another qualified nutrition worker.

Diabetes Supplies

Medicare covers a lot of products for seniors with diabetes, like blood sugar monitors, glucose test strips, glucose solutions, and lancets used to draw blood. It also pays for constant glucose monitors for seniors who take insulin or who have had trouble with low blood sugar in the past. Part B says that these items are covered as long-lasting medical tools. After you’ve paid your Part B payment for the year, you’ll pay 20% of Medicare-approved costs.


You must buy the equipment from a Medicare-enrolled supplier or order it through Medicare’s mail-order program using a Medicare national contract provider. A Part D prescription plan pays for things like alcohol swabs, bandages, inhaled insulin devices, needles, and syringes that are used to give insulin.

  • Dementia

Dementia isn’t just one illness. It’s actually a general term for a group of signs that people with different diseases, like Alzheimer’s, may have. Diseases that are called “dementia” are caused by changes in your brain that make it not work properly. The symptoms of dementia cause a decline in cognitive abilities that is serious enough to make it hard to live on your own or do daily tasks. Dementia also changes how you act, feel, and relate to others. 


60-80% of dementia cases are caused by Alzheimer’s disease. Vascular dementia is the second most common cause. It is caused by tiny blood clots and blocked blood vessels in your brain. People with mixed dementia have brain changes that stem from more than one type of dementia at the same time. Most people call dementia “senility” which is wrong because that term comes from the belief that mental decline is a normal part of aging, which it’s not.

Medicare And Dementia

Medicare covers dementia care, providing much-needed assistance throughout the condition. Alzheimer’s, vascular dementia, and other dementias require comprehensive care across multiple healthcare providers. However, Medicare addresses many of these needs, thankfully.


First, Medicare Part B covers cognitive tests. These are essential for senior dementia tracking. Doctors can adapt treatment plans based on cognitive changes in you or your loved one through regular cognitive exams. They can also identify the patient’s dementia stage. Medicare Part B provides cognitive and home safety tests. These examinations can detect household hazards that could injure or complicate dementia patients. The evaluations suggest ways to make living safer and dementia-friendly. Medicare Part B also covers care planning. The advancement of dementia requires care modifications. Medicare care planning helps address medical, social, and mental needs as dementia progresses.


Medicare Part A covers hospital stays for complications or severe dementia progression. Inpatient care at general or mental hospitals is included. Dementia care requires pharmaceutical management, which Medicare Part D provides. This prescription drug coverage covers doctor-prescribed dementia drugs. This coverage can greatly minimize senior drug expenditures, which can add up. While Medicare provides extensive coverage, it’s crucial to understand your plan’s deductibles, copayments, and other out-of-pocket charges. Remember that knowing what to expect might make dementia care easier.

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The First Signs of Juvenile Arthritis

If your child is complaining of aches and pains in their joints, you might just write them off as growing pains. But you should be aware that consistent joint pain in children can actually be a condition called juvenile arthritis, which is a chronic disease. Nearly 300,000 children under the age of 18 are affected by juvenile arthritis in the U.S., so the next time your child complains of joint pain, consider the fact that it could be one of the types of this condition. It’s important to know the symptoms so you can catch it and treat it early on.

What Is Juvenile Arthritis?

skeleton hand
Arthritis causes persistent joint inflammation and can cause problems with bone development and growth. 

Juvenile arthritis is an inflammatory disease in which the body’s immune system attacks healthy cells and tissues. Arthritis causes persistent joint inflammation; oftentimes it’s mild and does not progress to a more severe joint disease or deformities, but if left untreated it can cause serious joint and tissue damage. Not only that, but arthritis can cause problems with bone development and growth. 

This condition is idiopathic, which means that there is no exact known cause for it, but researchers believe that it might be related to genetics, certain infections, or environmental triggers. 

Different Types of Juvenile Arthritis

There are several types of juvenile arthritis. It’s normally classified based on what symptoms the child presents with, the number of joints that are affected, and the presence of markers in the blood when a blood test is performed. The different types of juvenile arthritis include:

  • Systemic arthritis– Also called Still’s disease, this type of arthritis can infect the entire body. It usually causes a high fever and rash on the arms and legs, and can affect internal organs such as the heart, spleen, and lymph nodes.
  • Oligoarthritis–  Also called pauciarticular juvenile, this type of arthritis is often outgrown by adulthood. About 50% of children with juvenile arthritis have the oligoarticular type. It affects girls more often than it does boys, with girls younger than 8 years of age most likely to develop it.
  • Polyarthritis–  Also called polyarticular juvenile idiopathic arthritis (pJIA), this type affects 5 or more joints in the first 6 months of having the disease. It can affect the joints in the jaw and neck, as well as in the hands and feet. This type is also more common in girls than in boys.
  • Enthesitis-related arthritis– This type of arthritis affects the hips, knees, ankles, eyes, and any places where tendons are attached to bones. This type of arthritis occurs mainly in boys who are older than 8 years.
  • Psoriatic arthritis– This type of arthritis causes both arthritis and the skin disorder psoriasis. 


Juvenile arthritis will affect all  children differently, but some symptoms to look for include:child laying in bed with a thermometer in his mouth

  • Joint stiffness
  • Pain, swelling, and tenderness in the joints
  • Persistent fever
  • Rash
  • Weight loss
  • Limping
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Blurred vision
  • Redness of the eyes or eye pain 


The best way to beat juvenile arthritis is to catch it early on and get treatment as quickly as possible. To diagnose it, your child’s doctor will order blood tests, review your child’s medical history, and might even request x-rays to look for injuries, to rule out other conditions. 

If there are signs that your child has juvenile arthritis, a treatment plan to help control inflammation, relieve pain, and prevent any joint damage will be created. Treatment can include exercise, as well as medications that can treat pain and swelling, including:round white tablets

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs – You can often find these over the counter; they include drugs like ibuprofen and Naproxen.
  • Slow-acting antirheumatic drugs – These drugs treat pain and swelling over time, and can take several weeks to work.
  • Corticosteroids – These are usually prescribed as oral medication. Steroids are often avoided in children if possible, though, because they can have side effects including poor growth and weight gain.

Finding Health Insurance Coverage

One of the most important factors in getting the help you need for your child’s arthritis is your health insurance plan. Before choosing a plan, make sure you understand what coverage it offers, and make sure it will cover evaluation and treatment for juvenile arthritis. 

We offer a wide range of health insurance plans from top-rated insurance companies in every state. And because we work with so many companies, and can see all of the plans available in your area, we can find you a plan that saves you a lot of money – even hundreds of dollars – even if you don’t qualify for a subsidy. There is no obligation, or hassle, just free quotes on all available plans in your area. To get free instant quotes, simply enter your zip code in the bar above, or to speak to a local agent, call 888-350-1890.

Eating for Pain Relief: Can Your Diet Affect Your Arthritis?

Ouch. Feel that? That dull, aching pain in your joints after you’ve been active all day, or that stiffness when you get up in the morning? It’s arthritis, and it’s here to stay now that you’re getting older, right? Well, sort of: there’s no cure for arthritis, unfortunately, but you don’t necessarily have to live with the worst of the pain, stiffness, and soreness. Your doctor can prescribe medications, and you can make changes to your lifestyle that can help alleviate the pain, like moving more and getting more sleep. But did you know that your diet can also affect your arthritis? Yes, dieticians and the Arthritis Foundation recommend incorporating – or avoiding – certain foods to help manage your arthritis and live a more pain-free life. 

What Does Your Diet Have to Do with Arthritis?

First of all, let’s make it clear that we’re talking about osteoarthritis, which develops when the cartilage in the joints breaks down over time. This is the most common form of arthritis, affecting around 30 million people in the U.S. – so you are certainly not alone in your suffering!

We know you’re looking for relief, and you might not be so jazzed about the idea of popping ibuprofen like it’s candy, so it’s definitely worth a try to incorporate certain exercises, and certain foods, into your diet. Why does your diet play a part in arthritis pain relief? The right diet can’t cure your osteoarthritis, but it can help you to:hand with red on the palm that is stretching a blue band

  • Reduce inflammation and protect against further damage- Certain foods can help reduce inflammation, a major component of osteoarthritis, or even prevent further damage to your joints (think: foods rich in antioxidants).
  • Lower cholesterol – People with arthritis tend to also have high cholesterol, so a diet that helps keep your cholesterol in check might help with symptoms.
  • Maintain a healthy weight – Losing weight can help take pressure off of your joints, as well as help with inflammation. If you’re having trouble losing weight because of mobility issues, talk to your doctor.

So let’s take a look at some specific foods you can incorporate into your diet to help you manage your osteoarthritis.

1. Fatty/Oily Fish

Love seafood? You’re in luck! Certain types of fish can actually help reduce inflammation: specifically, fatty fish varieties such as salmon, mackerel, sardines and trout, which are high in omega-3 fatty acids. “Fish is an excellent source of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids, and regular consumption of omega-3 rich fish has been linked to reduced joint swelling in people with arthritis,” says Paula Doebrich, RDN, MPH, and owner of Happea Nutrition.

In fact, in one small study, 33 participants were fed either fatty fish, lean fish, or lean meat four times each week. After eight weeks, the fatty fish group had decreased levels of specific compounds related to inflammation. And, a test-tube study showed that omega-3 fatty acids reduced several inflammatory markers that are involved in osteoarthritis. 

So how much fatty fish should you shoot for? You should include at least one serving in your diet each week to take advantage of the beneficial anti-inflammatory properties. Having trouble keeping fresh fish in the house? Try frozen or canned (just look out for added sodium in the canned versions). Not a fan of oily fish? You can also try omega-3 supplements, like fish oil, krill oil, or flaxseed oil, or add more chia seeds, flaxseed oil, and walnuts into your diet. 

2. Nuts and Seeds

nuts and seeds in plenty
Nuts and seeds are great for reducing inflammation!

Speaking of chia seeds and walnuts, most kinds of nuts and seeds are a great source of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids. But that’s not the only thing that makes them a great choice for those with arthritis. According to Doebrich, “nuts and seeds are also a good source of selenium and vitamin E, which act as antioxidants in the body.”

And did you know that red meat, while it’s a good source of protein, can cause flare-ups in people with arthritis? So nuts, which are high in protein and low in saturated fat, are a great replacement option!

3. Broccoli

These tiny trees don’t only make you feel like a giant when you chow down on them, they also are fabulously nutritious: broccoli is rich in vitamins K and C, as well as bone-strengthening calcium. But it also contains a compound called sulforaphane, which researchers believe could slow the progression of osteoarthritis. In fact, one study that looked at the diets of 1,005 women found that the intake of cruciferous vegetables like broccoli was associated with decreased levels of inflammatory markers.

4. Garlic

Garlic isn’t just great for warding off vampires: researchers believe that garlic and its components might have cancer-fighting properties, and the ability to help lower the risk of heart disease and dementia. 

But that’s not all: garlic has been shown to have an anti-inflammatory effect that may help decrease symptoms of arthritis. It also has a compound called diallyl disulfide, which scientists believe might work against the enzymes in the body that damage cartilage. Check this out: in one study, researchers analyzed the diets of 1,082 twins, and they found that those who ate more garlic had a reduced risk of hip osteoarthritis, likely thanks to garlic’s strong anti-inflammatory properties. 

Not bad! Definitely worth risking being rejected for a big smooch!

assortment of berries
Berries are rich in vitamins and antioxidants that can help reduce inflammation!

5. Berries

Berries are sweet, delicious, and bursting with health benefits! They’re rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, all of which provide a ton of health benefits, including reducing inflammation. Researchers have found plenty of evidence to back this up: for example, in one study of 38,176 women, those who ate at least two servings of strawberries per week were 14% less likely to have an elevated level of inflammatory markers in the blood. 

Scientists have also studied two specific compounds found in strawberries, quercetin and rutin,  both of which have been found to reduce inflammation or block the inflammatory processes associated with arthritis.

So that means it’s time to get snacking on strawberries, blueberries, or blackberries! Fresh or frozen, it doesn’t matter, just get your daily dose in – you can even make yourself a smoothie with some leafy greens (more on them below) to really punch that arthritis in the face!

6. Ginger

Ah, ginger – that unmistakable spice! It packs a lot of punch flavor-wise, but it could also be a powerful fighter against arthritis pain. A 2001 study assessed the effects of ginger extract in 261 patients with osteoarthritis of the knee; after six weeks, 63% of participants experienced improvements in knee pain. So try taking a ginger supplement, adding this spicy root to soups, or drinking some ginger tea.

7. Leafy Greens

Now there’s another reason to eat your greens! Dark, leafy greens like spinach, collard greens, kale, and chard are rich in Vitamin D and stress-fighting phytochemicals and antioxidants. Vitamin D is essential for calcium absorption, which can help strengthen your bones. 

While all of these greens are great for you, you might want to take Popeye’s advice and add more spinach into your diet to specifically help with your arthritis. A 2017 test-tube study treated arthritic cartilage cells with kaempferol, a compound found in spinach, and found it reduced inflammation and prevented the progression of osteoarthritis.

So why not try some salmon with spinach sauteed in olive oil? Why specifically olive oil? Well…

8. Olive Oil

Olive oil is well known for its anti-inflammatory properties: “This is because olive oil is an excellent source of healthy, monounsaturated fats, and EVOO is also rich in antioxidants, which are known to be anti-inflammatory,” says Doebrich. It contains a compound known as oleocanthal, which naturally helps reduce inflammation and can also be great for your heart health. 

In fact, in one study, mice were fed extra-virgin olive oil for six weeks (lucky mice!), which actually helped stop the development of arthritis, reduce joint swelling, slow cartilage destruction and decrease inflammation. And in another small study, participants who consumed either fish oil or an olive oil capsule each day for 24 weeks had decreased levels of a specific inflammatory marker (38.5% less in the olive oil group and between 40–55% in the fish oil group).

So remember, when you’re sauteeing your broccoli or leafy greens, make sure you reach for the olive oil instead of the butter (and throw some garlic in there, as well)! 

What to Avoid

Finally, we should point out that there are some types of foods that you should avoid as much as possible to keep your arthritis under control. These include: bottle of coke next to a glass filled with coke

  • Sugary foods and drinksProcessed sugars can prompt the release of cytokines, which act as inflammatory messengers in the body. Sugary beverages seem to be especially problematic for arthritis sufferers, so steer clear of them.
  • Foods high in saturated fat – These include things like red meat, butter, and cheese, and can cause inflammation in the fat tissue. Try to swap out red meat as a protein source for nuts, and butter for olive oil.
  • Refined carbohydrates – Refined carbohydrates, such as white bread, white rice, and potato chips, fuel the production of advanced glycation end (AGE) oxidants, which can stimulate inflammation in the body. Swap out refined carbohydrates for their healthier whole grain counterparts.

Living with arthritis can feel like a struggle, but there are things you can do to manage your pain. This includes eating a healthy diet that includes the foods listed above, and avoiding those other foods that are often the culprits when it comes to our less-than-perfect health. So talk to your doctor, try to get moving, and start creating some serious smoothies and delicious dishes with the foods that will help keep those joints feeling good!

“Arthritis Lifestyle”, the Key to Managing Your Pain?

Arthritis stinks. The pain and stiffness can really put a damper on your day (or night), so you’ve probably put a lot of thought into what helps relieve your symptoms. Maybe you’ve noticed that you feel better when you add some exercise and movement into your day, so you try to do yoga or walk the dog when you get a chance. Maybe a good night’s sleep helps, but it’s so hard to stay asleep all night with the pain! 

Trying to work towards getting more exercise, movement and sleep are great goals for dealing with your arthritis, but doctors who have completed a study on arthritis management are now saying that you shouldn’t look at these habits as separate parts of your day. Rather, they believe that you should know how movement and sleep work together to improve or worsen your symptoms. They also urge arthritis sufferers to know their “arthritis lifestyle” so they can more effectively manage their pain

older asian man with his eyes closed and his palm on his cheek
There is a link to sleep and arthritis pain, if you get enough, then you can manage your pain better.

How Much You Move and Sleep Are Key

It’s already been proven that movement and sleep are especially important for people with arthritis. Getting enough quality sleep can:

  • Help you manage pain better, and even raise your pain threshold
  • Boost your immune system
  • Allow your body to repair damaged tissue

In fact, a recent study published in the Journal of Neuroscience found that sleep loss makes certain pain centers in the brain more active and reactive than they would be after a good night’s sleep. Unfortunately, you might find yourself in a vicious circle, in which pain makes it difficult to sleep, and lack of sleep makes it difficult to feel better. As Christopher R. Morris, MD, a rheumatologist in private practice in Kingsport, Tennessee, points out, if a person sleeps poorly, “the muscles can’t fully relax. If they’re fatigued, they hurt. If they hurt, they get fatigued, and they hurt more.”

How about moving your body? Exercising, as well as movement that isn’t specifically considered “working out,” is the other key to managing arthritis symptoms. For example, according to research published in Arthritis Care & Research, people with lower extremity joint pain and stiffness who engaged in moderate to vigorous activity for at least 45 minutes a week had improved function compared with less active adults.

Unfortunately, most people with arthritis don’t move enough. According to the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, only 36% of adults with arthritis get the recommended weekly amount of physical activity. Again, while some of this may have to do with lifestyle restrictions, some of it may be related to another vicious circle: you hurt, so you sit more, so you hurt some more. But now we know that you also need to consider how your sleep affects your exercise vs. sitting habits, and vice versa, as well as how they all interact to make up your “arthritis lifestyle.”

What’s Your “Arthritis Lifestyle”?

Dr. Lynne Feehan, PhD, a physical therapist and clinical associate professor of physical therapy at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, and her colleagues, are interested in that exact issue: how do people with arthritis balance movement, sitting, and sleeping throughout their days, and how does this balance affect them? Feehan believes that you can’t separate these habits: “Evidence suggests that keeping more physically active during the day makes you more likely to have better sleep quality and duration at night,” she says. 

She also believes that “We can’t assume that a patient with knee arthritis needs to increase their physical activity, because maybe it’s their sleep or sitting behavior that are bigger issues.” That’s why she and her colleagues looked at 172 people with arthritis and their exercise, sitting, and sleeping habits and created the following four “arthritis lifestyle” categories. Take a look and see which one you might fall into!

caucasian hands holding each other on a woman's lap with a skirt and cardigan on

  • The High Sitter Type: People in this category spend an average of 13 hours per day sitting, which is well above the recommended threshold of 10 hours. They get less than 20 minutes of exercise (such as brisk walking) a day, and move around for only around 1.6 hours per day (for example, walking to their car or moving around the house). They also get less than the recommended 7 hours of sleep, getting only around 6.9 hours per night on average. 
  • The Low Sleeper Type – How about people who get even less sleep than that? “Low sleepers” get only around 6.5 hours per night on average, and they also sit too much for good health (around 12 hours per day). But they do get in more exercise, as they tend to walk briskly for about 30 minutes a day and move around for approximately 3 hours a day in their daily lives.  
  • The High Sleeper Type – As the name implies, this group gets more sleep than the others, clocking in at a luxurious 8 hours a night on average. They also sit less, hitting the more recommended amount of around 10 hours per day. But they need to move more: they only tend to exercise for around 18 minutes a day, although they move around for approximately 2.5 hours. 
  • The Balanced Activity Type – This is the category you should be aiming for! People in this group get an average of almost 7.5 hours per night, get plenty of exercise (around 45 minutes a day), move around for more than 4 hours a day, and only sit for around 9 hours. 

What To Do

older man sitting on a table with a male doctor touching his knee with one hand and holding a clipboard in another.
If you keep experiencing a lot of pain, it is best to talk to your doctor about your arthritis lifestyle.

The categories above are a way for you to assess your own lifestyle, and how your movement, sitting, and sleep habits might be interacting to affect your pain. Your best bet is to strive to be in the “balanced activity” category, although it’s understandable that this might be difficult if you’re juggling a busy lifestyle or having trouble sleeping. But there are things you can do! Dr. Feehan suggests making small, incremental lifestyle changes, so that they’re more likely to stick, and to make a real difference. 

For example, to try and get more sleep:

  • Talk to your doctor if pain is the problem. In addition, try to find ways to minimize joint pain right before bed, like timing your medication schedule or even using a heating pad or taking a warm shower. 
  • Try getting to bed earlier, perhaps by moving your schedule around a bit and cutting down on couch time in the evening (which could also help cut down on your sitting time!)
  • On the other hand, don’t linger in bed if you can’t sleep. Get up, move around, and do something that’s not too stimulating until you feel sleepy. 
  • Make sure your bedroom is reserved for sleep, not working, watching TV, or using your phone or tablet. 
  • Get moving! As Dr. Feehan has made clear, exercise and sleep go hand in hand to help relieve symptoms. Exercise relieves stress, which can help you get more rest, and can help to tire you out.

When it comes to getting more of that precious exercise into your day, remember not to be afraid to move! Dr. Feehan points out that slowly increasing your physical activity level shouldn’t end up making your pain worse, and any extra aches you feel should be temporary, and hopefully lessen over time. “The pain most people feel is not doing damage or making the arthritis worse, and there are tremendous benefits,” she says. 

Walking not your thing? You can try some more low impact activities, like spinning, biking, or swimming. Yoga is also a great way to add movement and stretching into your day! 

The most important takeaway in all this is that each of us has a unique lifestyle that affects our health. For people suffering from arthritis, knowing how to balance movement, sitting, and sleep in their daily lives can make all the difference in managing pain and improving quality of life. 

The ABCs of CBD

The marijuana plant has been the topic of heated conversations in recent years. Most people know Marijuana has a reputation for recreational use, but what about the impressive medical research and benefits this plant has to offer? Cannabidiol, or CBD, is one such derivative, and has been called a “miracle” by doctors across the country. Unlike THC, the psychoactive substance in the marijuana plant, CBD is legal in all 50 states, and is used to treat many common ailments

a glass container with liquid in it and a dropper on the table
CBD can be used to treat many different conditions.

The ABCs of CBD

A: About. CBD is just one component of the cannabis (marijuana) plant. CBD affects the body’s endocannabinoid system, a series of receptors throughout the body that regulate appetite, experience of pain, mood, and memory in the central nervous, cardiovascular, and gastrointestinal systems. CBD is not a psychoactive substance, which means it does not affect your mind. So, unlike THC, the psychoactive compound in the marijuana plant, CBD will not cause the user to feel high. 

B: Benefits: CBD can be used to treat an incredibly wide variety of conditions, with more uses being discovered each day. Some of the benefits of using CBD include:

  • Pain relief
  • Sleep support
  • Appetite stimulation
  • Improved heart health
  • Addiction management
  • Mental health support

C: Consumption. CBD is not a leaf or plant; it is an oil extracted from the plant. Unlike the drug, it is not smoked, which may have harmful effects on the mouth, throat, and lungs. The extracted oil can be used in a variety of forms: 

  • Topical gels or creams
  • Tinctures
  • Edible products
  • Capsules

Benefits For Seniors

xray of a knee
CBD can help with chronic pain and arthritis issues.

For those of us seeking holistic methods to improve quality of life as we age, CBD could be a very useful tool. It could help to replace some daily medications, support pain management, and improve the symptoms of a variety of conditions, including:

  • Chronic pain. 75-85% of seniors deal with chronic pain, which is what CBD is currently primarily used for. CBD stops the body from absorbing anandamide, one of the compounds associated with pain regulation. This results in increased levels of anandamide within the bloodstream and reduced pain.
  • Arthritis. Not only does CBD help with pain management, but it also has anti-inflammatory properties that make it ideal for treating arthritis, which affects nearly half of all people over the age of 65. CBD can also be used in the treatment of multiple sclerosis and joint dysfunction.
  • Osteoporosis. Research has shown that CBD can help strengthen bones and promote cellular repair, which can speed up the healing process should a fracture or break occur. 
  • Cardiovascular issues. A variety of studies have shown that CBD impacts cardiovascular function in myriad ways, including reducing high blood pressure, reducing cardiac inflammation, and stopping cell death due to oxidation. It supports vasorelaxation, which promotes healthy blood pressure and increases blood flow to the heart.older asian man laying in bed staring at the clock on the table next to him.
  • Insomnia. Sleep disorders impact individuals of all ages, but are especially common in seniors. Some medical professionals believe this to be a result of chemical imbalances, and others suggest it may be caused by stress and anxiety. CBD helps with the latter, as it promotes relaxation by impacting the central nervous system.
  • Neurological conditions. Many experts believe that CBD can be used as a treatment for neurodegenerative diseases, such as ALS, Huntington’s, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s. While these studies are still in clinical trials, they have seen overwhelming success thus far. CBD could also be used to treat glaucoma by reducing the intraocular pressure that causes pain and eventual blindness.
  • Mood Disorders. CBD interacts with neuroreceptors involved in regulating mood, like serotonin and oxytocin, and has been proven to relieve stress and anxiety, support relaxation, and improve cognitive function.

For seniors seeking a natural way to improve their lives and fight pain, CBD can be a miracle oil. A non-invasive, non-addictive way to manage inflammation, mood, and a variety of medical conditions, CBD is a harmless alternative to many prescription medications. Talk to your primary care doctor to see if CBD might be a good fit for you!

Head, tooth, and jaw aches: TMJ: A Silent Stressor

Have you ever woken up with an aching jaw? Do you suffer from sensitive teeth? How about tension headaches that stretch across your forehead like a rubberband? These symptoms – a constant aching pain, lockjaw, or tension – can elevate daily stress levels and decrease overall quality of life. Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction, or TMJ, could be the sneaky culprit of these, and other, symptoms.

What Is TMJ?skeleton head with jaw open and a red joint

TMJ is basically a broad term for conditions that affect the temporomandibular joint, jaw muscles, and facial nerves. The temporomandibular joint is a hinge-and-slide joint that attaches your jaw to your skull on either side. You can feel the joint – it’s a ball between your ears and your cheekbones. When it is working correctly, the bones around the joint are covered with cartilage and protected by a shock-absorbing disk, allowing smooth movement when opening and closing your mouth. 

When it’s dysfunctional, the hinge catches irregularly because the joint’s cartilage is damaged, the joint is damaged by an injury or impact, or the disk has eroded or is misaligned. This dysfunction can cause facial tension and pain, headaches, earaches, swelling, and difficulty chewing. In the worst cases, TMJ can cause the joint to lock, making it difficult to open or close your mouth. The exact cause of this joint’s dysfunction is different for every person, but 5-12% of people experience pain in this area, so if you are suffering from these stressful symptoms, you aren’t alone! 

Key Risk Factors For TMJ

While every TMJ case is different, there are some common risk factors that may increase the risk of developing or worsening temporomandibular joint dysfunction, including: 

  • Jaw injury
  • Chronic teeth grinding
  • Arthritis
  • Connective tissue diseases

    man standing in the mirror holding his cheeks with both hands
    Tenderness or pain in the jaw area is one of the symptoms of TMJ.

TMJ is painful, and often goes undiagnosed, despite the fact that the majority of cases can be managed with lifestyle changes or physical therapy. It’s important to see a doctor if you have two or more of the following symptoms:

  • Tenderness or pain in the jaw area
  • Sensitive, aching teeth
  • Aching pain in or around the ears
  • Swelling, pain, or pressure around one or both of the temporomandibular joints
  • Difficulty or pain while chewing
  • Aching facial pain
  • Clicking sound or grinding sensation when chewing or opening the mouth
  • Sensation of locking of the jaw when opening or closing. 

What Happens Next?

If you’ve decided that you’ve had enough of these stressful symptoms and are looking for relief,  the first step is finding a craniofacial specialist. These doctors know the inner workings of the bones and joints of the face and can perform a thorough exam and assessment. They will measure the range of motion and strength of your jaw, take x-rays and bite compressions, and may run other tests to find out what exactly is going on. If your doctor determines that your pain is caused by temporomandibular joint dysfunction, they may prescribe a set of targeted jaw exercises to help strengthen and relax those tight joints and muscles, or they may refer you to a physical therapist. Additionally, they will likely recommend lifestyle changes to support healthy temporomandibular function. Common lifestyle changes to reduce symptoms of TMJ include:

  • Improve posture. Because the neck and jaw are so closely related, the slouched posture so many of us have can affect the position of your jaw joints. This posture is often related to working at a desk, using cellular devices, and not getting enough physical exercise. One easy way to correct poor posture is to place a rolled up towel in the curve of your back while sitting at a desk. When properly placed, this should force you to sit up tall and correct your neck and shoulder positioning. This is such a common issue that there are also many tools available to support proper posture, including over-the-counter back braces and electronic devices that remind you to adjust your position.
  • Improve sleep habits. TMJ discomfort can cause poor sleep quality, but poor sleep quality exacerbates TMJ discomfort! Break this cycle by improving your end-of-day habits, so you can be ready for a more relaxed night’s sleep. Try reducing the amount of screen time you get before bed, dimming the lights 30 minutes before you want to fall asleep, or adopting a pre-bedtime mindfulness routine to get a better night’s sleep.
  • Watch what you eat. Certain foods can irritate TMJ symptoms. Avoid things like steak, chewy vegetables, and hearty breads, as they can cause jaw fatigue or unnecessary compression. Eating softer foods and taking smaller bites when TMJ symptoms are acting up can help alleviate pain and tension.persons hands with their thumb popping out a white pill from a pill pack.
  • Decrease stress levels. Many folks have nervous habits, like chewing on gum, biting their nails, or grinding their teeth. All of these habits can lead to overusing the TMJ muscles and can cause damage to the joint or tissues that support healthy jaw function. Try to break these habits by supplementing hard candies for gum and using relaxing breathing techniques to eliminate nail biting or jaw grinding. To supplement physical therapy exercises and these lifestyle changes, there are some helpful at-home remedies you can rely on to relieve pain. You can try:
  • Ice and heat therapy: Apply hot or cold packs to sensitive jaw areas for 5-15 minutes at a time. 
  • Anti-inflammatory medication: While you don’t want to use these every day, over the counter pain management medication can be helpful for TMJ symptoms. You’ll want an NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug) like Motrin or Advil, as they have the anti-inflammatory properties that will decrease swelling and pain related to swelling.
  • Stress management techniques: Stress plays a major role in jaw pain for many people, and stress relieving techniques can be effective for reducing pain. You can try breathing exercises or relaxation techniques, massaging the area with essential oils, or taking a brief break for meditation.

TMJ symptoms can be invasive and can impact every part of your life, but these stressful symptoms don’t have to last forever. You can adopt healthy lifestyle changes that will help you to see a decrease in symptoms before you even visit your doctor. Remember, though, as with any concerning symptoms, you should contact your doctor right away. TMJ is a manageable condition, and you have nothing to lose by starting on the path to recovery.