What it's Like Living with Arthritis

In the UK, more than 10 million people are currently living with arthritis or a similar condition that affects the joints. Although it affects people of all ages, it’s most common in people of retirement age, including many of our residents.

We’ve previously worked with Versus Arthritis to explain how arthritis can be eased in the colder months. However, ahead of World Arthritis Day, we’ve partnered with Versus Arthritis again to learn more about living with arthritis and how those in retirement can manage the condition. 

In addition, we’ve also interviewed a few of our residents about their experiences, how it affects their day-to-day and what steps they take to make living with their arthritis easier.

Expert Insights from Versus Arthritis

We spoke to the team at Versus Arthritis who provided us with some expert insights about the condition, particularly for those in retirement.

Could you tell us a bit more about the work you do with arthritis sufferers?

We believe that arthritis steals from millions of people every day. It can stop them from feeling, moving freely or simply stop people from being themselves. We make sure that nobody fights arthritis alone.

We have information, resources and a helpline team so, if anyone ever has a question about it, we can help them find the answer. Ultimately, we’re a community who provide support for arthritis sufferers, but we also support world-class research and breakthrough treatments to help combat the issue.

We were formed in 2018 following a merger of Arthritis Care and Arthritis Research UK. We’re now the UK’s largest charity dedicated to supporting people living with the condition.

What causes arthritis?

The word ‘arthritis’ is used to describe pain, swelling and stiffness in a joint or joints. Although, it isn’t a single condition and there are several different types.

Although there’s no cure, treatments have improved greatly in recent years and, for many types of arthritis, there’s a clear benefit in starting treatment at an early stage.

It may be difficult to say what has caused your arthritis. There are several factors that can increase the risk of each type. It could be that the genes you inherited from your parents or grandparents made you more likely to get it.

Are there different types of arthritis?

Because there are several types of arthritis, it’s important to know which one you have. There are some similarities between these conditions, but there are also some key differences.

This is the most common type in the UK, affecting nearly nine million people.

This occurs when the cartilage surrounding the joints roughens and the body tries to repair from the loss of this important substance. During this, tiny bits of extra bone may grow, the fluid may increase inside the joint or the joint capsule can stretch.

The early phase of this often doesn’t cause much pain, but it can lead to damage inside the joint, as well as pain and stiffness.  

  • Gout and Calcium Crystal Diseases

Gout is a type of inflammatory arthritis that can cause painful swelling in joints. It typically affects the big toe, but it can also affect other joints in the body.

Joints affected by gout can become red and hot. The skin may also look shiny and can peel.

  • Rheumatoid Arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis is a type of inflammatory arthritis. It is what is known as an auto-immune condition.

The immune system is the body’s natural self-defence system, and it protects us from infections and illness. When someone has an auto-immune condition, the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the body’s healthy tissues, such as the joints, causing inflammation. This inflammation can make moving the joint difficult and painful. 

  • Spondylosis

Spondyloarthritis is a word used to describe a number of conditions that cause pain and swelling, mainly around the joints of the spine.

In these conditions there is inflammation of small pieces of connective tissues, called entheses. These are tough little cords that join either ligaments or tendons to bones.

  • Psoriatic arthritis

Psoriatic arthritis is an auto-immune condition. It is also a type of spondyloarthritis.

The body’s immune system can cause painful swelling and stiffness within and around joints, as well as a red scaly skin rash called psoriasis. The rash can affect several places in the body, including the elbows, knees, back, buttocks and scalp.

What does arthritis feel like and are there any symptoms?

“What does arthritis feel like?” is one of the most common questions we’re asked by people who haven’t been diagnosed. The truth is that there are many different symptoms and these will differ depending on the form of the condition that you have. Generally speaking, the main symptoms include joint pain and stiffness.

How can arthritis affect your day-to-day living?

Living with arthritis can be challenging and carrying out everyday tasks can be difficult. It can affect all aspects of life, including driving, gardening, sex and shopping, what’s more it can also pose challenges in the home or at work.

How do you support older people who have arthritis?

There are lots of support services available for older people living with the condition in different areas including a free helpline and online community.

Other places are also doing a lot to help people living with arthritis, including Age UK, AskSARA and Living Made Easy

The Thoughts of Our Residents

To learn more about how arthritis can affect us, we also spoke to three residents from our developments to get their honest accounts of what it’s like to have the condition.

They also gave us useful information and guidance to help other people in retirement that are living with arthritis and those who may have recently been diagnosed. 

Diana Iddles, 87 – Bluebell Court, Wolverhampton
Type of arthritis: Osteoarthritis

I experience a lot of stiffness and soreness in my joints; especially my wrist and my back. This means that I’m often not comfortable travelling very far and I try not to make trips too often. If I miss a tablet, I also can find it difficult to get out of bed or nod off to sleep. 

“You should communicate with other retirees regarding the symptoms.”

Although I’ve heard a lot of people say that arthritis gets worse in winter, this isn’t my experience, but I believe that you should communicate with other retirees regarding the symptoms. Talking with others really helps and they’ll also be more understanding if you can't make social events when symptoms flare up.

When it comes to managing the pain, Pilates has helped me, as has trying to keep busy in general. If your symptoms escalate, then you should seek medical advice – or if you’re a McCarthy Stone resident, let the House Manager know.

Patricia How, 78 - Waterford Place, Chippenham 
Type of arthritis: Seropositive rheumatoid arthritis in multiple joints

My arthritis feels like a dull ache in my hands, knees, shoulders and arms. I also experience a lot of stiffness in the joints.

I find that if it’s damp or hot then my arthritis can feel worse. It’s easier to manage when resting, but getting up in the morning can be a bit of a struggle.

Overall though, it doesn’t really have a huge impact on my life, even though I do walk with a walking stick. I still travel regularly – and I even fly abroad!

“I Try to get as much exercise as I can, as this helps alleviate the stiffness.”

I’m on medication to help manage my arthritis, but I try to get as much exercise as I can, as this helps to alleviate the stiffness. I think that when you’re dealing with arthritis, it’s important to take each day as it comes. Walk as much as you can and try to get exercise for your joints.

I’ve also found that having a positive mental attitude really matters, but you should also remember to seek medical advice if you think you need it. Understanding your arthritis more and approaching it with a positive mindset gives you more control over it - which then means it won’t affect your day-to-day living as much. 

Anon, 72 - Century Court, West Bridgford 
Type of arthritis: Rheumatoid

I suffer from a lot of stiffness, discomfort and flare ups that are gradually getting worse. This makes it difficult for me to open jars and bottles and it also generally means I feel more fatigued than I’d like. 

“Take advantage of exercise groups such as Zumba and Tai Chi, which are good for general health as well as arthritis.”

Although arthritis support groups are available, I prefer to take advantage of exercise groups such as Zumba and Tai Chi, which are good for general health as well as arthritis. Plus, to help with arthritis, I think it’s good to invest in gadgets that are designed to help. This can be a bit of trial and error, but some of the good ones are invaluable. Also, try to keep going and do your best not to let the condition get on top of you.

Do you Suffer from Arthritis in your Retirement?

From speaking to our residents and Versus Arthritis, it’s clear that togetherness and problem sharing are both important when managing arthritis.

So, why not get in touch with us on Facebook or Twitter to share your story? You may even have an invaluable piece of advice that could help improve another sufferer’s life.