Living with arthritis: practical solutions
Wednesday 1st October
People suffering with a painful arthritic condition can have difficulty in holding, grasping and gripping, causing them to drop things. Occupational therapist Caroline Molloy has some handy suggestions for making life a little easier.
"Arthritis is a condition which can cause damage to your joints, so you need to try to preserve your joints by using adaptive techniques like larger handled cutlery, not gripping so tightly, and balancing the load when carrying your shopping,” says occupational therapist Caroline Molloy, who works with healthcare.co.uk. “One of the most important things that occupational therapy does is to advocate joint protection, and all of these things can help.”
As healthcare professionals, occupational therapists (OTs) have a wealth of knowledge in this area and can provide sound advice as well as workable solutions. “As an OT, I am most often approached for practical help in the kitchen, so gadgets like electric tin-openers and larger handled cutlery which is easier to grip,” says Caroline. “When you have arthritis, your fingers tend to swell, you may experience pain and your fingers may become slightly out of position. You might not be able to straighten your fingers as you used to, you might not even be able to grip hold of a knife or a fork. So when preparing your food, how do you chop your vegetables, and how do you manage hot pans?”
Carolines kitchen tips
Cooking vegetables: “Take a jug of water to the saucepan (you can refill it two or three times) and fill the pan with water. Then use a vegetable basket; it's like a chip-pan liner but slightly smaller. You put your vegetables in the vegetable basket, bring them to the boil and cook as normal. When you're finished, all you do is lift the basket out of the saucepan. Just leave the water to go cold in the pan before emptying it. Vegetable baskets are one of my top tips as they're cheap and very effective.”
Opening jars and bottles: “The seals can be quite strong, and for someone with arthritis using just the ends of their fingers would be very painful. There's a small rubber, cone-shaped bottle-opener that allows you just a little bit more grip. There's also a larger one that goes over a jar, allowing you to use your palm and spread the load across your whole hand. ”
Reducing fatigue: “Standing at the sink to wash up can be really hard on other arthritic joints such as ankles and knees, as it's not just the hands that are affected. There's a range of perching stools – high stools with a gradual slant to the seat. You perch rather than sit, so you're supported at your work surface. It means you can take more time over washing up, preparing your tea and coffee, or doing the ironing. Whatever the activity, spreading the load and spreading the time will help with your energy levels.”
Brushing your teeth: “You can also use a perching stool in the bathroom when you're at the basin brushing your teeth. Rather than buying large-grip pens or toothbrushes, you can buy a tube-like handle that slides onto your toothbrush (or pencil), making it easier to grip. Or consider an electric toothbrush, which has a larger handle for gripping”
Using taps: “An occupational therapist might recommend changing your taps from a turning tap to a lever tap which you use with the palm of your hand. A lot of people struggle with taps and sometimes I recommend that people get a plumber in because their taps are generally too stiff. There are also tap turners – little gadgets that go over the tap to turn it into a lever tap.”
Having a bath: “Lots of people tell me they have a bath every morning because it gives them more movement: they have a reduction in swelling, a reduction in pain, and generally feel better. Getting in and out of the bath can be really difficult, though, so there is a range of bathroom equipment from boards to seats to a bath-lifter.”
A good night's rest: “Some people I've spoken to have had their mattress for 50 years or more, so one of the first things I look at is the quality of the mattress on the bed. If the mattress has collapsed not only will you have an uncomfortable night's sleep, but you'll find it really difficult to get out of bed in the morning.” Caroline also recommends recliner chairs as a way of adding relaxation and rest into your daily routine, and to help change your sitting position.
Getting in/out of bed: “What I advocate is a bed lever-rail which goes underneath the mattress and comes just below shoulder level. You can use it either to help turn yourself over in the night-time or to get out of bed in the morning.”