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Senior Adapting to Osteoarthritis

It has taken awhile, but 75-year-old "Sally" has adapted to having osteoarthritis. She has been a widow many years and doesn't want her real name published. A doctor diagnosed her with osteoarthritis about ten years ago.

In a telephone interview, she said, "I don't perceive myself as having problems getting around and yet at the same time I know I do. I began having difficulty getting around at age 70 and have slowed down quite a bit since."

According to a National Institutes of Health website, osteoarthritis is "a joint disease that mostly affects cartilage." Cartilage helps a person absorb the shock of movement (similar to a shock absorber in a car) and when cartilage wears away, the bones underneath it rub together. That rubbing can cause swelling, pain, and loss of motion in a joint.

Sally has adapted well. "For example, I have a toilet riser to help me get up off the seat," she said. "To get up and down any steps, I need a railing, preferably on both sides. When I go out in winter weather, when there is ice, I wear special shoes for traction. And in the winter, I don't go outside without my cane."

In addition, every winter she lays down a string of wooden pallets between her back door and garage to create a level surface that helps make walking to her vehicle safer. Already thinking ahead to a day when unable to climb steps to her second floor, she has plans to move her bedroom downstairs.

As for adapting, she said, "I take the abilities I have right now and go with what I have. I'm not concerned about the things I can't do anymore. I'm just learning to live with what I have. But what's my choice? I believe it's better to be over the hill than under it."

She has thought about having knee replacement surgery, but fears the pain she would experience in rehabilitation and dreads the thought of the joints not lasting long. Compounding her problems has been recently diagnosed diabetes. With it, she has been told to exercise more, and yet can't because of her aching knees and winter weather. Outside winter, she does short walks and yard work.

She advised people with osteoarthritis to live within their limitations, and added, "I could just curl up and die, but I won't."

Sponsored by Blue Valley Sod.

Daniel J. Vance is a licensed professional counselor and national certified counselor from Vernon Center, Minn. His weekly newspaper column Disabilities has been published in more than 260 newspapers.

Daniel J. Vance may be reached at

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