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Learning Café teaches seniors about arthritis

Lunch and learn arthristis

For some older adults, osteoarthritis can be a serious side effect of aging.

Generally, osteoarthritis—the most common form of arthritis—occurs as people age and is an overall weakening of the joints. “As we age, if your hips and knees hurt, you don’t walk as much, and this might lead to osteoarthritis,” said orthopedist Dr. Benjamin Goldberg, explaining the cycle of the condition.

The WISE Senior Center hosted a “Learning Café” last month on arthritis, inviting seniors to enjoy a boxed lunch while learning from physicians and other experts about the condition.

“Tissues, as we get older, get weaker,” said Dr. Goldberg, addressing the full auditorium. Lifting a gallon of milk above shoulder level may cause you pain, or your knees may hurt when you walk up a flight of stairs, he continued.

Rheumatoid arthritis and psoriatic arthritis, however, are autoimmune diseases. According to Dr. Goldberg, “For some reason, your immune system thinks your shoulder or your knee is a bacteria and attacks it.”

When Dr. Goldberg encouraged questions from the audience, a woman raised her hand and asked about vitamin D deficiency and its association with bone fractures. The two are closely related, as vitamin D ensures that the body absorbs and retains calcium—an essential mineral for bone health.

However, because vitamin D is best absorbed through the skin from the sun, the woman had two concerns: Chicago’s harsh winters often result in a lack of sunlight, and during the summer when there is sunlight, people worry about skin cancer.

“I wouldn’t live in fear,” Dr. Goldberg said. “Try to live your life as normally as possible, and take vitamin D (supplements) in the winter.”

Another audience member mentioned severe pain in her knee and wanted to know if there was any way to avoid surgery.

Dr. Goldberg said he would have to examine her as a patient to know for sure, but that in general pain medication could only do so much. “You can take pain pills and ignore it, but that’s like putting headphones on when your car is squeaking. You still have to fix the squeaking.” Each person, he added, has to weigh the risks of complications with living in pain.

Caren Perlmuter, vice president of development and senior services, also offered a few words for seniors. “Now we’re going to get you moving. That’s the theme—keep you moving. It doesn’t have to be fancy. Lift soup cans, come walk at Weiss.”

She introduced Lois Grossman, a dance teacher and arthritis program supervisor at the Galter LifeCenter, a medical exercise center in Lincoln Square. Grossman also has arthritis and was there to show the audience exercises to increase range of motion.

“It’s so important to keep moving—walking, shopping, preparing meals. It’s all part of daily living,” she said. “Eat sensibly. Talk to your doctors. Take your medication, and move.”

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