RA + Aging = A Big Challenge

My first symptoms of RA began when I was 40 years old.  I was officially diagnosed at 42 years of age.  I am now 62 years old.  Aging with this disease is not easy to say the least.

Along with all of the many issues we face as we move into our senior years, like osteoarthritis and other age related medical realities, having a chronic disease like RA adds some significant complications.

Along with the joint pain, inflammation, fatigue, brain fog, etc. that are all part and parcel of the daily battle with RA, there are comorbidities that we have to handle and that often can become more pronounced as we age.

One example is osteoporosis. For many women, post-menopausal in particular, this is an issue, RA or not.  For those of us with RA, it is more common and therefore must be addressed with our physician or medical professional we see for our health needs.   For me, that meant having bone density testing done periodically and dealing with the results from a number of standpoints.

Another example is aging brains.  As we age, our brains need to be attended to, if we want to stay sharp and alert and have a good quality of life.  Studies show that we can do that by challenging ourselves cognitively and staying physically active and socially and civically engaged.   For me, the brain fog and energy drain that goes along with RA has become more pronounced as I age.  I need to rest and take breaks far more often at 62 years of age than I did at 45 years of age.

Anxiety and depression are also prominent in both RA AND as we age.  I work with seniors, I see how the realities of aging can weigh on folks, triggering anxiety and depression.  Well, RA does that too!  So, even if you have come to terms with one of these triggers, you may still have to confront it from another angle.

Generalized joint stiffness often accompanies aging so separating that from those same symptoms as they relate to RA can be tricky.  I find, now in my 60’s, that being stiff after sitting for long periods can often be more about my aging body than the RA.  The reason that matters is that knowing that keeps me from panicking that my RA may be getting worse or a flare is ensuing.  Thankfully, having this disease for 20+ years does inform me about how to differentiate between them.

I know you can think of many other examples as can I.  What they all have in common is that they complicate how we deal with RA and present yet another challenge.  That said, the best approach to this is to understand and reflect on those challenges, working through the best ways to handle them, treat them, confront them.   I also suggest chatting about this with your medical team.  They can help immensely to sort through the various issues, figuring out one by one, what is related to RA and what is simply aging.

Knowing the difference adds clarity to our plan as we move along life’s journey.

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