Arthritis: aids and equipment to help
Having arthritis doesn’t necessarily mean you will be restricted in your day-to-day activities — there is a wide variety of simple and practical home care and lifestyle aids available, designed to help reduce pain associated with your arthritis and improve your comfort, safety and ability to carry out tasks.
In the home
Many people with severe arthritis prefer to live in single-storey homes to avoid the burden of stairs, but moving house is not always a practical solution. You may wish to explore the option of a stairlift/homelift, depending on the limitations of your condition and the suitability of your home. Other products that can help you maintain your independence include:
- key turners and door knob covers;
- specially designed scissors with large handles;
- book holders to avoid strain on the wrists and joints;
- pick-up reachers (a tong-like implement that makes reaching for and grasping objects easier);
- rubber grips for pens and pencils. These mean you will not have to grip as hard;
- ejector seat chairs, which may help people with limited mobility; and
- light, long-handled brooms and dustpans to avoid bending.
Talk to your doctor or occupational therapist about installing handles and aids around the home to ensure they are appropriately placed, and that they can support your weight.
This simple task can become a challenge for people with arthritis, but mastering it can provide a confidence boost. Aids available include:
- zipper and button pullers;
- a sock notch — an aid that helps you pull your socks on;
- shoe horns; and
- long-handled combs and toenail scissors.
In the kitchen
Many products are available to make sure your arthritis doesn’t disadvantage you in the kitchen. These include:
- ergonomic peelers, cutlery and knives;
- non-slip cutting boards and table mats;
- jar openers;
- tap turners. These work on a basic lever system. Alternatively, lever taps are available;
- soft bag handles;
- can claws — special can openers that prevent stress on your hands;
- plastic wrap cutters; and
- carton pourers/sealers.
In the garden
It is important to avoid unnecessary strain if you have arthritis and care for a garden. Here are some tips on how to continue enjoying your garden without aggravating your arthritis.
- If possible, use kneeling pads and long, lightweight gardening implements.
- Attaching a rubber grip to tools can help prevent swelling of the knuckles, if this is a problem.
- Depending on the severity of your arthritis, you may wish to work from your wheelchair or from a stool.
- A wide range of gardening aids is available, such as stainless steel spades (soil doesn’t cling as much as to ordinary spades), seed planters that don’t require bending, and pruning shears designed to protect the joints.
In the bathroom
Slippery surfaces and wet areas make bathrooms a tricky area for many people with arthritis. Here are some tips on how to stay safe in the bathroom.
- Install safety treads in your shower and bathroom. These may also be used on stairs, in the laundry or in any area where you are concerned about stability.
- Toilets are available with a raised seat, and there are special tongs/holders for toilet paper. Installing hand rails around the toilet may be helpful.
- A bath seat offers security in the tub. You may also need handles on either side to assist when getting out.
- Install a hand rail in the shower, and/or use a plastic seat in the shower.
Choosing the right shoe
For someone with arthritis, the correct shoe can significantly increase comfort. Many people find slip-on shoes are the most appropriate. If fastenings are required, look for elasticised laces, or a zipper with an easily accessible handle.
Living with arthritis does not mean you need to compromise on your quality of life, although you may need to re-educate yourself on how to perform some routine tasks. Don’t feel ashamed of your condition: use the resources available to you, accept offers of help and ask for assistance if you need it. Talk to your doctor, healthcare professional, occupational therapist or rheumatologist about living with arthritis.
Where to find aids and equipment
For more information, or to purchase aids and equipment, talk to your occupational therapist, local pharmacist or local arthritis support group.
If you have arthritis, you may feel fatigue and a lack of endurance; you may be in pain and get very tired, very quickly. This means that having arthritis could affect your work. To what extent depends on the type and severity of the arthritis, and how much help you may require to continue in your work, if continuing is an option.
Arthritis and the workplace
Occupational therapists can offer workplace advice to help people with arthritis work as comfortably as possible.
For example, depending on the type of arthritis and the joints affected, you can get help to find out the options for joint protection to reduce the rate at which deformity can occur (for example, to the hand). It is important to get advice early on so that damage to joints is minimised.
Questions for you
You may already be working, need to look for a new job or have been ill for a while and want to re-join the workforce. Arthritis is unpredictable and there are a number of questions you need to answer in the beginning.
- Am I well enough to work?
- If so, what kind of work should I do?
- Will I need help or resources to do my job or a new job?
- Should I tell a prospective employer that I have arthritis?
Many employers are not aware of the needs of someone with arthritis in the workplace. They may be aware of a problem if you have an obvious sign such as swelling and redness, and most are sympathetic. But with an early diagnosis, sometimes symptoms are usually just pain and fatigue, which are less visible, and employers can be less than sympathetic.
Occupational therapists can visit the workplace and recommend options and resources for people remaining at, or returning to, work once diagnosed with arthritis. They can also discuss with employers the difficulties, options and requirements of employing a person with arthritis.
This could mean, for example, the option of aids for hand functions, so that you can manage tasks without external support, or shoulder straps for carrying or lifting objects. An occupational therapist can also determine whether you are positioned effectively for your role, particularly if you are seated for extended periods, and what resources you may need, for example, a telephone headset.
With the arthritis cycle of flares and remissions it can be difficult to hold down a job. There can be times where the condition is not well controlled. In particular, inflammatory types of arthritis such as rheumatoid arthritis can be unpredictable. Employees may begin to take an increasing amount of time off and employers may become unsympathetic. Some people may lose their jobs and, if that happens, depression becomes a real threat. It's important, therefore, to try to find work that is realistic and sustainable for your condition.
What kind of work can I do with arthritis?
The type of work that someone with arthritis should look for is very much dependent on the individual. It also depends on the person’s existing skills but, in general:
- look for a job that offers variety and the ability to change your physical position frequently. People with arthritis can get very stiff if forced to stay in one position too long;
- try to find a job that does not involve doing something repetitive as this places the same type of strain on the same joints;
- avoid jobs that involve activities where there is mechanical trauma to the joints, such as hammering or having to maintain a constant grip or sustained joint position; and
- try to find something that will allow you to take breaks when needed.
Many people with arthritis need a flexible job, and working from home may be the answer: computer work or telemarketing are just 2 choices to get back into the workforce. Many people are able to do volunteer work, which is a good way to start getting back your confidence and determining your fitness for full- or part-time paid work.
You should check whether returning to the workforce will affect any disability support payments you may have been receiving.
If you are already in work, discuss options for extra resources or any help you may need with your occupational health and safety officer or the person who is responsible for employee health in your workplace.
Resources are available to help you at work with your arthritis. Talk to your doctor or rheumatologist, and contact or join a support group: it helps to talk to others who have gone through the same thing. If you need the services of an occupational therapist, ask your doctor or rheumatologist or contact the government rehabilitation service or the occupational therapists' association.