STRATEGIES FOR CARING FOR SOMEONE WITH ARTHRITIS
What is arthritis
The word arthritis means “inflammation of the joint”. Inflammation causes swelling, redness, warmth and pain in the joint(s). Some forms of arthritis do not cause these symptoms. Most forms, however, do cause inflammation of the affected joints as the body attempts to respond to injury. The common factor in all forms of arthritis is joint and musculoskeletal pain.
Where possible, encourage your loved one to take an active role in managing the disease.
Caregivers and their families should learn about arthritis, find out what works best for chronic pain, and take part in treatment programs that are available.
Encourage arthritis sufferers to inform their health care providers about all the treatments they are using
Arthritis is a chronic disease with no known cure. Despite medical treatment, many people with arthritis have pain, disability, deformity, and decreased quality of life. Many arthritic sufferers have turned to alternative and/or complementary medicine to try and find a cure or to improve the quality of their lives. Alternative medicine refers to treatment methods used in place of conventional medicine.
Conventional medicine is taught in western medical schools. Complementary medicine is used to complement (not replace) conventional medicine.
Various types of alternative and complementary treatments are in common use today. Three examples are herbal medicine, acupuncture and reflexology. Herbal medicine is the use of certain herbs for their medicinal effects. Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese treatment used to decrease pain, control nausea and aid relaxation. It involves the use of thin needles to apply pressure to certain points of the body.
Reflexology is a way of treating certain conditions by massaging the soles of the feet or the palms of the hands. It follows principles similar to acupuncture. Side effects sometimes occur from mixing treatments (e.g. medicinal herbs and prescribed and over-the-counter drugs). It’s important for people to inform their health care providers about all the treatment methods they are using.
Don’t ignore pain
Chronic pain can be a serious challenge for many persons with arthritis. Chronic pain can be mentally and physically exhausting. Advise your loved one to take meds as directed and to rest joints that are painful and swollen. Remind him that stress may increase muscle tension and worsen any pain. Relaxation techniques may help to reduce anxiety. Some people find massage therapy helpful. Others listen to music, practice deep breathing exercises or meditation.
Remember that it’s important to balance activity and rest.
Chronic pain can be very tiring. Tell your loved one that it’s okay to take a short rest period if she’s tired. It is also important to get enough sleep at night.
Assist with activities of daily living
As the disease progresses, your family member may have trouble doing simple activities. Dressing may pose a problem. He may need to change the type of clothing he usually wears. Velcro fasteners, rather than buttons or zippers, will make it easier for a person with pain or limited hand movement to dress alone. Large-handled eating utensils, raised toilet seats, and higher chairs are examples of how equipment can be adapted to assist with daily living. Canes or walkers may help the person with walking. Joint problems make falls more likely. Ensure a clear path for walking. A number of health care professionals (e.g. an occupational therapist or a physiotherapist) can be quite helpful in suggesting changes to meet the needs of people with arthritis.
Observe and report signs of depression
Chronic pain, disability and deformity may lead to feelings of depression that may require medical help. The depressed person may look sad and cry often. Other common signs are feelings of despair, lack of energy, changes in appetite, disturbed sleep pattern, and decreased sexual interest. If your family member is depressed, tell the health care professional. Take threats of suicide seriously. Notify the appropriate person right away.
Assist with any other aspects of the treatment plan
Exercise or diet may be a part of the person’s daily routine. Perhaps he is recovering from surgery such as a THR or a TKR. In any case, always follow the treatment plan. Ask questions if you are not sure about any aspect of care. Report any unusual or surprising findings to the health care professional.
In our book, All About Arthritis, we outline key practices and strategies used to help someone caring for a person with arthritis.