An Expert Explains the Connection Between Arthritis and Our 5 Senses

Although movement is not among the five key senses, lack of mobility from arthritis and related conditions is associated with overweight and obesity, which might further aggravate sensory loss, experts say.

What’s the connection? Not only can excess weight lead to joint damage from pressure on joints, fat itself is chemically active, releasing inflammatory biochemicals that speed the destruction of cartilage and joints. Furthermore, excess weight, pain, fatigue and stiffness that result from arthritis make it more difficult to stay physically active and maintain a healthy weight, explains Nick Turkas, director, Health and Support for the Arthritis Foundation.

According to the most recent estimates, more than 54 million people in the U.S. have doctor-diagnosed arthritis, including nearly half (49.6 percent) of those age 65 and over.

Risks of Obesity

Extra weight also may increase some risks of sensory loss. For example, overweight and obese individuals are at an increased risk for several eye issues including diabetic retinopathy, age-related macular degeneration, and glaucoma. Other conditions such as retinal vein occlusions, floppy eyelid syndrome, stroke causing visual loss, and thyroid-related eye diseases have also been linked to obesity.

“Maintaining a healthy weight is one of the best things you can do to alleviate the effects of arthritis,” says Turkas. Physical activity is an important step to losing or maintaining weight.

When you have arthritis, being active can be painful and difficult, but even small increases in activity can make a difference, Turkas adds. “You don’t need to be a marathon runner, but walking, stretching, getting in the water, biking, gardening, washing the car – those activities can make a big difference for people in alleviating pain and preventing injuries.”

Help a Loved One

If a loved one struggles with sensory loss or arthritis, you can help them be more active to improve their health, too, Turkas says. “Visiting your mom is helpful, but if you can do things together that incorporate activities, such as walking and gardening, that is more meaningful and has an amplified benefit. Finding time together is helpful.”

Also, do what you can to avoid accidents, Turkas recommends. “Most injuries are accidents. Mitigate accidents and falls by making sure houses are clutter-free.”

If someone is having difficulty with activities of daily living as a result of arthritis, Turkas suggests they engage an occupational therapist to do an assessment. “This professional can show someone how to get out of bed, shower and learn better ways of getting things off the floor or chopping vegetables. Those types of techniques as well as tools – such as elevated toilet seats, shower transfer benches, and reachers that can help someone put on socks – can make a difference. So too can extra help at home. Check out Arthritis.org for more information and other resources, including a help line, arthritis insights assessment, information about the Arthritis Foundation’s Walk With Ease program and connect groups to get in touch with others who are living with arthritis. 

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