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Aging Gracefully, With a Chronic Disease

For the better part of three decades, Sherrie Kossoudji has endeavored each day to manage the inflammation, chronic pain, tight joints and other types of physical strife caused by rheumatoid arthritis.

Rheumatoid arthritis affects my life in as many ways as you could possibly imagine, and pretty much at all times, says Kossoudji. It is a disease that can be manipulated with medicine, but it doesnt ever really go away.

Now 53, Kossoudji is dealing with a new aspect of her chronic disease: sorting out what is a normal part of aging, and what is a facet of rheumatoid arthritis, or RA. If she has a sore leg, a pain in her elbow or a kink in her wrist, is it because of RA or is there another cause?

I have fingers that dont work well, joints that dont work well. I have a wrist that doesnt flex and neuropathies in my legs, she says. I think its difficult when someone has a long-term disease to separate what happens as the body ages from what happens when you have a disease for a very long time.

RA is debilitating for some patients as they age, so it is especially important for people with RA to see a rheumatologist to determine the best course of treatment and to gain the best possible understanding of what is happening in ones body, says David A. Fox, M.D., division chief and professor of rheumatology at the University of Michigan Health System. Fox is Kossoudjis rheumatologist.

Whatever the age of the patients RA onset whether it is at a young age, like Kossoudji at the time of her diagnosis, or later in life Fox emphasizes that RA is not a normal part of aging. It is a specific condition with symptoms that cant be cured, but can be managed.

Arthritis should not be considered just a part of the aging process or a normal part of getting older, Fox says. There are some elderly people who dont have arthritis, and many people who develop arthritis when they are younger.

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