Family guide to arthritis
Arthritis is a broad term that can be applied to more than a hundred different conditions, the most common of which are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. It can affect people of all ages but it is particularly common among the elderly.
Rheumatic disorders generally apply to the soft tissue in and around joints and, amongst many other complaints, they include bursitis, tendonitis, capsulitis, and localised pain in the neck and back.
Common to all these conditions is the experience of pain, which is often severe and debilitating. Associated with this, there can be considerable stiffness and swelling and – since many of these conditions are chronic and degenerative – the symptoms may worsen with time, limiting movement. As a result, the sufferer can go on to experience secondary problems such as muscle wasting and loss of manual dexterity.
This broad group of conditions affect very large numbers of people – typically between 15 and 20% of an adult population – and an estimated 10 million people in the UK alone. Fortunately, as one of the world’s most widespread chronic diseases, it has attracted considerable attention and there are now many useful aids, treatments and support groups that can help to make the lives of your loved ones very much easier.
Making life easier
Although there is no cure for arthritis, the most notable symptom of the disease – pain – can be treated with a combination of painkillers and anti-inflammatory drugs, although in very severe cases, surgery might also be used to give more lasting relief.
Treatments depend very much on the specific condition and individual circumstances but, in certain cases, people can sometimes also benefit from exercise, massage, and physiotherapy treatments.
On a day to day basis, stiff and inflamed joints – and the loss of dexterity that often accompanies them – tends to make normal routines much more difficult. Simple tasks like dressing, rising from a chair and using household appliances can all become considerably more challenging – leading to frustration, loss of confidence and less independence in the activities of everyday living.
To counter this, manufacturers have launched a wide range of living aids that are designed to be used – safely, effectively and without help – by people with reduced strength, flexibility or fine motor control. Some examples of these products are listed in the following section.
In addition, there are numerous support groups that can provide help to arthritis suffers and their families. More details about such organisations in the UK are listed in the final section of this guide.
The many diverse symptoms of arthritis and rheumatic conditions make it impossible to itemise all the ways in which someone’s life might be affected and, therefore, all the possible aids and supports that might be useful to people who suffer from them. However, listed below are some aspects of everyday living that are commonly hampered by such diseases – and the sorts of products that can help.
Stiff joints can make it very hard to bend sufficiently to get in and out of a bath safely or, while bathing, to reach extremities such as the feet. Examples of useful bathing and washing aids include bath lifts, long handled sponges, foot cleaners and safety rails.
Stiffness and reduced manual dexterity can make a seemingly simple action such as tying a shoelace extremely difficult. To ease the frustration and prolong independence, people living with arthritis can take advantage of button and zip pullers, self-binding shoe laces, extra long shoe horns, and many other dressing aids.
Eating & drinking aids
Painful, swollen fingers can render it almost impossible to use conventional cutlery, while the difficulty of gripping smooth, damp or heavy crockery can pose a risk of spills, scalds, and falls. To remedy this, manufacturers now offer soft-handled, easy-grip cutlery, non-spill cups, two handled cups and beakers, non-slip bowls, plate surrounds, clothing protectors, and many other aids to help.
For someone with arthritis, the kitchen can be a difficult and sometimes dangerous environment. However, innovations such as hot drink dispensers, kettle tippers, jar openers, tap turners, and pan holders can all help to prevent accidents and let people remain more self-sufficient.
To assist with day to day living, designers have produced ingenious gadgets such as key turners, plug-pulls, writing aids, and large format items such as telephones, TV remotes, and keyboards with oversize keypads.
Standing and mobility aids
Arthritic hips and knees can be a serious and very common cause of immobility, which can lead to further health problems and a poorer quality of life. To offset the effects of this, people can choose from an array of walking frames, rollators, support rails, and riser recliner chairs, among others to help with their mobility.
Support and information
Families supporting a relative who is suffering from arthritis or a rheumatic disorder might find the following organisations and websites useful as sources of advice, information and other resources.
Arthritis and VAT relief
When someone is buying a product for a person (including themselves) who has a disability, a severe physical impairment or a chronic illness, they are not required to pay VAT on it provided that the item in question is purposely designed as act as an aid to disability or injury. More details can be found here.