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This month’s article focuses on arthritis, the unique long-term care needs that individuals with arthritis may face, and resources that are available to them.

Arthritis is a chronic, degenerative joint disease that affects an estimated 50 million Americans. The most common form of arthritis is osteoarthritis (OA), which is the breakdown of the cartilage between the joints. Other forms of arthritis are rheumatoid arthritis, which is caused by the inflammation of the membranes lining the joint; and juvenile arthritis, which describes inflammatory diseases that affect children.

When OA occurs, the bones in your joints begin to rub against another, causing discomfort, pain and stiffness, which can make it difficult to perform activities of daily living. While many individuals only experience mild or moderate pain, others will experience consistent pain that can make most daily activities difficult and painful. While the causes of OA are not completely understood, the disease is associated with the aging process, and while arthritis is not just a disease of old age, the older you get the more likely it will occur. General wear and tear, overuse, injury, obesity, and genetics are all things that can contribute to OA.

While there are treatments available to manage the pain associated with OA, there is no cure. Due to its chronic and progressive nature, many people with OA will eventually need assistance at home in order to perform their activities of daily living such as getting out of bed and getting dressed. This type of assistance is considered long-term care since the purpose is to provide on-going care and assistance to individuals with chronic needs rather than to treat or cure an acute medical condition.

Receiving a diagnosis of OA leads to many questions, including managing the costs of long-term care. Since long-term care is not covered by Medicare or private health insurance policies, there are few options for assistance with the extraordinary costs of home care and nursing home care. Long-term care insurance may be an option for some individuals, but it may not be available to, or be affordable for, those suffering from OA. Medicaid, being the only program that covers the cost of home care attendants and nursing homes, has become a safety net for individuals living with chronic illnesses such as arthritis.

Medicaid is a means-tested program that bases an applicant’s eligibility on his or her resources. With proper counseling and planning most middle-class individuals can become Medicaid eligible without spending down their life’s savings, giving up their monthly income, or exposing their homes to a Medicaid claim. An Elder Law attorney will discuss available strategies for protecting your home, assets and income should you need to access Medicaid benefits.

Additionally, the Arthritis Foundation is excellent resource for individuals affected by arthritis and those dedicated to finding a cure. The Arthritis Foundation provides information, tips and support to people living with arthritis, and leads the advocacy, research and fundraising efforts to educate, raise awareness and eventually eradicate the disease. Visit their website at www.arthritis.org to find out more about the Arthritis Foundation’s mission and the great advances being made in arthritis research.

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