While the use of painkillers tends to grab most of the headlines when it comes to coping with arthritis, the use of assistive devices also plays an important role. These simple devices can improve your ability to walk, bathe, cook, clean, and get dressed with relative ease.
"Think of arthritis as both pain and the loss of joint function. Both are incapacitating," explains John Klippel, MD, president and CEO of the Arthritis Foundation in Atlanta." One of the approaches to pain is drugs. But by and large, the approach to functional loss involves the use of assistive devices."
Where do you begin, and what can help you the most? Check out this room-by-room guide to learn exactly how and where assistive devices can help you with the activities of daily living.
Your Kitchen/Dining Room
There are many useful aids and strategies that can help make cooking and eating easier for people with arthritis.
For example, "utensils are often small and difficult to grip for people with arthritis in their hands," Klippel says. But choosing utensils with wide-grip foam handles can make a big difference. "The handles are bigger so people can grip them," he says. Other devices that ease life in the kitchen include:
- A reach extender. This rod with trigger-controlled grasp at the far end allows people to reach 26 to 30 inches and pick up small objects -- say a can of soup in an otherwise out-of-reach cupboard.
- A jar opener. Once you get that jar down, open it with an automatic jar opener that clamps down on jars of any size and twists off the caps.
- Door levers. Replace door and faucet knobs with levers so you don't have to grip and twist door knobs.
- Chair extenders. Extenders on chair legs can elevate the seat at the kitchen or dining room table to the height at which it's easiest for you to sit. Stools, carts, or trash cans on wheels can also help.
Kitchen setup is also key. Rearrange your cupboards and drawers so you have quick and easy access to the items you use most often. This will help reduce the need for painful stretching. Raise the level of electrical appliances, including microwaves, food processors, and bread makers to a comfortable height to help relieve undue pressure on your hips and knees.
And be sure to look for the Arthritis Foundation "Ease-of-Use Commendation Logo" the next time you are in the grocery store. This seal signifies user-friendly products and packaging. The Folgers AromaSeal™ Canister, for one, has an easy-to-hold handle and a foil seal that peals away so no can opener is necessary. For a complete list of all such products, visit http://www.arthritis.org/resources/sponsors/Ease_of_Use/eou_complete_list.asp.
You can buy many assistive devices online. Just search for the name of the product you want. Or contact your local Arthritis Foundation chapter to find local stores that sell these products.
Simple things for most of us, like getting dressed in the morning or turning on the reading lamp, can be difficult for people with arthritis, but certain assistive devices can help make the process easier.
- Sock aids and zipper pulls. A sock aid can help you pull up your socks without bending your legs. A zipper pull, which has a large rung that attaches to a zipper tag, makes zippers easier to grab and zip.
- Shoes with Velcro grips. Try walking shoes with Velcro grips instead of shoelaces to make everyday dressing easier.
- Big buttons and pockets. Shop for garments with buttons the size of a nickel and large pockets to carry keys or other hard-to-grab objects. Whether bras or shirts, look for front-opening closures.
- A reach extender. If your closet has hard to reach storage areas, a reach extender lets you reach 26 to 30 inches without stretching.
Consider lamps that turn on with a touch, or are activated by voice or motion. Replace small rotating knobs on existing lamps with larger, grip-and-turn knobs. Phones with giant buttons are also easier to use. Special pillows including neck pillows can help avoid stressing your neck or neck muscles while you recline or sleep and a large body pillow can support your arms and legs during the night. Some people with arthritis find it helpful to attach Velcro tabs to the corners of sheets so that they can make the bed without tucking in the sheets.
Several simple innovations can make a world of difference in the bathroom.
- Faucet turners. These levered handles make turning on faucets in the bathroom sink much easier.
- Bathtub bar. Install a bathtub bar to hold on to as you get in and out of the tub.
- Shower seat. These simple seats fit in your tub or shower stall. They can help you conserve energy while bathing and avoid falls.
- Elevated toilet seats. An elevated toilet seat can reduce the strain created by getting on and off traditional low toilet seats.
Also while you are bathing or showering, a long-handled bath brush or sponge can help you wash hard-to-reach places.
Your Living Room or Den
Relax with less stress using these helpful aids in your living room.
- One-touch, or voice- and motion-activated lamps. Depending on your preferences, get lamps that turn on with a simple touch to the base, or when you walk in the room or talk.
- A cervical pillow. Keep a cervical pillow on the couch with the rest of your throw pillows so you can keep your neck comfortable while watching television.
- Grip-and-turn door knobs. Replace small rotating door knobs with door levers or form-fitting rubber knob covers that are easy to grip and turn.
- Bookholders. If you enjoy reading on the couch, purchase a bookholder for hands-free reading.
Remember, don't watch television while lying on your back because this can cause neck discomfort and back pain. And if changing channels on the remote control is challenging, consider purchasing a universal remote control with larger buttons.
Your Hallways and Doorways
Assistive devices such as canes, crutches, or walkers can help with walking around the home. Here are a few other helpful devices.
- Key turners. Simple key turners can make coming and going much less of hassle. They typically have large plastic handles, which provide leverage for turning keys.
- Doorknob levers. Doorknob levers or covers provide better grip and pushing power. Often made of molded rubber, they tend to fit over standard doorknob.