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Today, living with rheumatoid arthritis is less of a struggle

December 6, 2013

Rheumatoid arthritis is an obstacle standing between many seniors and healthy aging. Considerably different from the more common osteoarthritis, RA is an autoimmune disease that attacks the lining of joints and can cause significant pain, discomfort and disability. In recent years, however, substantial strides have been made in treating the condition, and a new study sheds light on just how much better off RA patients are today compared to 20 years earlier.

The study, performed by researchers from Utrecht University in the Netherlands, found that seniors with RA have a much easier time with daily living activities today than those who had the disease two decades ago. Specifically, they found that the rates of depressive symptoms and disability were cut in half. For instance, 20 years ago, 23 percent of RA patients reported feelings of anxiety. Today, that figure stands at about 12 percent. Researchers say the biggest reason for the decrease stems from better awareness and improved treatments.

"Earlier diagnosis, more intensive interventions along with recommendations to live a full life and to be physically active may help improve daily living for those with RA," said lead author Dr. Cécile L. Overman. "Our study examined if psychological distress and physical disability in RA patients reduced over the last two decades."

The prevalence of RA is much lower than osteoarthritis, with approximately 1 percent of the population living with the disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There are several ways for seniors to mitigate symptoms, and diet has proven to be a particularly effective option. Specifically, foods that have anti-inflammatory characteristics - such as salmon, whole grains and leafy green vegetables - can have a positive impact.