Arthritis is a painful disease affecting one in four adults in the United States.
Although arthritis is common, living with it can feel isolating and extremely challenging since it affects the entire body. Some cases can be moderate, but some are severe and require the utmost care and attention.
“It can be a very limiting condition due to the pain, stiffness, and a decrease in the function of the joints,” said Sarah Blankenheimer, FNP, a nurse practitioner focused on rheumatology at Banner Health. “It can also affect one’s emotional health and relationships with others such as family and friends.”
Caring for a friend or family member with arthritis
When you live with or care for someone who has arthritis, when they suffer, you suffer too. It can be tricky to find the right balance between letting them know you are happy to help without being overbearing.
Blankenheimer shared ways to help a friend or loved one manage their condition well and remain independent for as long as possible.
1. Learn about the disease
“As with any chronic illness, trying to understand the disease process shows you support your friend or loved one throughout their diagnosis and treatment journey,” Blankenheimer said.
The word arthritis simply means when a joint or joints are swollen, stiff and painful. Confirm the type of arthritis your partner, relative or friend has and then understand more about the condition. There are several variations of arthritis, including osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), psoriatic arthritis and gout.
2. Communicate with your friend or partner
Good communication is essential. Open communication between you and your friend or partner is instrumental in managing their arthritis. It will also encourage a stronger relationship for both of you.
Discuss with them their limitations or how it affects their day-to-day activities. Agree on how to work together so they’ll feel able to ask if they need extra help.
Communication will also help you understand when and how to respond sensitively, so they feel supported and reassured without feeling like a burden.
3. Know when to help and when to step back
Chat about the tasks or things they might be struggling with and write a list of possible solutions and ways you can help.
“Offer to assist with any physical tasks that may be challenging for them, like opening jars, getting dressed or carrying heavy items,” Blankenheimer said. “Some people may not ask for help or may refuse help. Unless you are concerned about their safety, it is OK to hold back assistance.”
Sometimes managing arthritis requires taking various medications or using assistive devices like canes or walkers. They might want your help keeping drugs and dosages straight or figuring out how to use their assistive device.
4. Encourage movement
Physical activity and exercise can help improve their mood and strengthen muscles around the joints to protect them from further damage. Exercise can also help improve functional mobility.
Exercises like walking, swimming, yoga, tai chi and cycling can be great options for added energy and reducing pain. These things can be done together, so while stretching and burning calories, you have an activity to enjoy together.
Your friend or loved one might also benefit from seeing a physical therapist or occupational therapist to help them stay active and work on tasks that they find difficult.
Remind your friend or loved one to check with their health care provider before starting any exercise and remember their limits.
5. Connect with others
“The Arthritis Foundation has multiple local support groups where you and your friend or loved one can speak with others with similar experiences,” Blankenheimer said. “This can help them feel less alone and give you access to more information about the disease process.”
6. Consider a clinical trial
Some forms of arthritis are expensive to treat, and these costs can add up quickly.
If treatment costs are a problem or other treatments haven’t worked, you might benefit from participating in a clinical trial.
Clinical trials can get you access to new treatments before they are available to the public, help others with the same disease, provide free treatment, and help you to better understand your condition.
Here are websites to locate an RA clinical trial:
- Arthritis Foundation
- American College of Rheumatology
- National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases
7. Look after yourself
As a caretaker, you might not think about yourself very often. But taking care of someone you love can take its toll.
[Also read: “Watch for Key Signs of Compassion Fatigue.”]
It’s important to look after your physical and mental health and well-being. Being healthy and happy is very important to your quality of life and will also put you in a better place to care for someone.
Participate in activities you enjoy, get plenty of sleep and ask for help from others when you need a break.
Watching a friend or loved one struggle with arthritis can be difficult. It is important to find ways to help them cope and remain independent for as long as possible. Showing them you are there for them both physically and emotionally will make navigating the condition more manageable. Understanding how arthritis affects their life will encourage a stronger relationship too.
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