Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is classified as an autoimmune disorder because it causes the body’s immune system to attack healthy tissues. In the case of RA, the immune system damages the tissues that surround and protect joints. RA can impact any joint in the body, but it most commonly starts in the hands and wrists, then moves on to other joints as the disease progresses. RA in the wrists can be extremely difficult and make performing some daily tasks difficult. Knowing more about how it affects your aging relative can help you to be a more effective caregiver.
How RA Affects Wrists
The wrist joint contains 10 bones—8 small ones and 2 large ones. One or both of the wrists can be affected by RA. However, if only one wrist is affected, it’s likely that the other will also be affected eventually. At first, the symptoms can be quite mild, but they generally get worse over time. Wrists become swollen and painful. As the disease progresses, the older adult may lose some of the range of motion in their wrists.
RA can damage cartilage in the wrist. Cartilage is necessary for making joints move smoothly and providing them with cushioning. When the cartilage is damaged, the bones in the wrist may grind against one another. The damage done by RA in this manner cannot be reversed. It can lead to tendons that help control fingers can rupture, making it impossible to move fingers through their entire range of motion.
Treating Arthritis in the Wrists
RA isn’t curable, but there are treatments that can make symptoms easier for seniors to live with. Some treatments the doctor may recommend are:
Limiting Activity: Resting wrists during arthritis flare ups can help relieve symptoms. Of course, it isn’t possible to keep wrists completely still. To help immobilize the wrists, the doctor may suggest the senior wear a wrist brace.
Wrist Exercises: Wrist exercises can help improve flexibility and strengthen muscles. The doctor may recommend that the senior see a physical therapist to learn exercises that can help.
Medications: Doctors often suggest anti-inflammatory medications for reducing swelling associated with RA. They may recommend NSAIDs, painkillers, corticosteroid injections, or other medications.
Surgery: When RA has caused extensive damage or if it does not respond well to treatment, the doctor may recommend surgery to replace damaged parts of the joint.
If your older family member suffers from RA in their wrists, elderly care can help them live more comfortably. Elderly care providers can help seniors to rest their wrists by taking over household tasks that could cause further pain, such as vacuuming, cooking, and mopping. Poor wrist mobility can make it hard for seniors to perform personal care items like dressing or bathing. An elderly care provider can help them with those things and more. And, since immobile wrists may make it impossible for the senior to drive, an elderly care provider can offer transportation to run errands, visit friends, and attend medical appointments.