Assistive Devices: Living Better With Arthritis

Medically Reviewed by David Zelman, MD on May 28, 2023
4 min read

Eyeglasses, bottle openers, pliers -- we use dozens of assistive devices every day; without them there's a lot we couldn't do.

So when rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, or another condition puts the brakes on what you do, why not expand your tool set to include a few helpful devices that make it easier to do the things you enjoy?

Arthritis is the most common cause of disability, according to the Arthritis Foundation, and with more than 100 types of arthritis, affecting ore than 50 million people, that's not surprising.

Fortunately there are hundreds of tools that can help. But before you employ any assistive device, be sure to use your own strength and range-of-motion first, the better to preserve both. A few all-purpose self-help tools you can use anywhere in the house include:

  • Fat rubber grips slip over everything from a toothbrush handle to a pen or potato peeler, reducing pressure on your joints and making it easier to hold small items.
  • Doorknob adapters are lever handles that fit over standard round doorknobs; once installed you only need push the lever up or down to open a door
  • Lamp adapters. Screw a lamp adapter into a light bulb socket and it converts any metal lamp into a touch lamp with three brightnesses.
  • Leg extenders can lengthen the legs of your office chair, dining room table, kitchen island, or any piece of furniture that's too low to use comfortably.
  • Spring-loaded scissors can save your hands from fatigue from garden to office.
  • Key turners snap onto the heads of household keys, widening your gripping surface and making keys easier to turn.

You can keep the kitchen the heart of the house with assistive devices that make cooking, serving, and eating easier.

  • Power appliances like mixers, food processors, slow cookers, can openers, microwave ovens and dishwashers make short work of kitchen chores, use less of your valuable energy, and pamper joints.
  • A wheeled cart or island in the kitchen helps you move food from cooktop to tabletop. Make things even easier by replacing heavy pots, pans, and dishes with lighter table- and cookware.
  • Lever-style faucets or tap turners. Convert difficult-to-manage faucet heads to lever-style faucets, or invest in inexpensive tap turners, lever-shaped pieces of plastic that fit over faucet heads and make turning taps easier.
  • Reach extenders, rods with a lever on one end and a gripper on the other, help you retrieve cans from high shelves, or pick up items dropped on the floor. As a matter of fact this handy tool, which can also come with a magnetic tip, is useful all over the house.
  • Jar openers can be as simple as a small rubber disk that fits over a twist-top lid, giving you better traction, or you can opt for specialty hooks, levers, and pliers-like grippers.

From small pill bottles and tiny nail clippers to hard porcelain surfaces, the bathroom can be tough to navigate with arthritis. A few self-help tools that can make life easier:

  • Medicine bottle openers. You don't need limited mobility to find medicine bottles hard to open. Fortunately, many inexpensive tools can help, some as simple as rubberized disks that aid your grip, others are specialty tools made for managing child-proof caps. You can also ask your pharmacist to fit your medications with easier-to-open lids.
  • Tub/shower rails. Falls can happen to anyone around slick surfaces and water. Rails are simple to install and an easy way to provide extra stability in the bath or shower; add a non-skid mat to the bottom of the stall to make things even safer.
  • Elevated toilet seats can make getting on and off the toilet easier, as can grab rails mounted nearby.
  • Long-handled brushes or bath mitts can help make washing up in the tub or shower less difficult. Buy two sets and you can use the second to clean the tub/shower itself.
  • Easy-grip nail cutters have larger blades and handles than conventional clippers, and they need less pressure to use, saving wear and tear on joints.

Getting dressed can be hard on your hands, but fortunately there are self-help devices to make the job easier and faster:

  • Zipper puller/buttoner. This fat-handled tool has a hook for pulling zippers, and a metal loop that helps you manage buttons. Buying clothes one size larger can also make daily dressing a little easier.
  • Coil shoelaces make quick work of tying shoes, or you can opt for slip-ons or shoes with Velcro closures.
  • Sock puller. Slip your sock or stocking over the plastic end of this device and with a tug of two straps socks and stockings slide on more easily.
  • Long-handled shoe horns help make sliding shoes on easier. You can quickly make your own by taping a small shoe-horn to a yard stick.

Of all self-help devices, a cane may be the most often seen, but it's also one of the most underused, experts say.

For many, there's the persistent fear that a cane makes them seem older than they are. But using a cane isn't about aging. It's about the independence, confidence, and mobility a cane can give.

Just like eyeglass frames can reflect your personal style, so can a cane. Just think of Fred Astaire dancing with the cane in Top Hat. But whether you'll be dancing or walking, make sure you use the cane correctly: On the opposite side from your bad leg.

Not sure if a cane, reach extender, or other assistive device is right for you? Talk to your doctor, physical therapist, or occupational therapist. They can guide you to the self-help tools that will give you the help you need.