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Caring for somebody living with arthritis

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Every year, around 10 million people in the UK visit their GPs with symptoms of arthritis, making it one of the most common physical conditions amongst adults.

While the condition is often associated with old age, many younger people also deal with arthritis and related conditions on a daily basis. From back pains to problems in the hands, wrists and feet, virtually anyone can feel the effects, especially if there’s a history of arthritis in the family.

If you have a loved one living with arthritis or who displays all the symptoms, it’s likely that they’ll require a bit of extra support in their daily activities. Their aches and pains will be most noticeable first thing in the morning and after long periods of staying still. Because of this, regular care and attention at all times of the day is often necessary.

What is arthritis?

Arthritis is an inflammation of the joints, which makes it difficult and often quite painful to walk, bend your arms or even pick up small objects. The severity of the condition can differ from person to person, with some experiencing greater discomfort than others.

Common symptoms include sharp pains, stiffness and even swelling around the joints. This, in turn, can cause weakness and tenderness throughout the body, as well as restricting a person’s mobility. Reduced movement and lack of exercise can even result in muscles becoming weaker over time, leaving arthritis sufferers feeling quite frail and vulnerable.

One of the most severe forms of the condition is rheumatoid arthritis, which is where the immune system mistakenly attacks cells providing lubrication around the joints. With rheumatoid arthritis, periods of swelling, stiffness and pain may actually feel much worse than less-severe forms of arthritis. This makes it difficult to predict when more help and assistance may be needed in advance, so consistent and regular care is highly recommended.

Dealing with the pain

There is no overall cure for arthritis, but there are several coping strategies that can help to limit the symptoms and make it easier to manage the pain. These include maintaining a healthy diet, taking appropriate medication and – if possible – even doing a bit of light exercise from time to time.

While it may seem unlikely for someone with arthritis to do certain exercises, simple movements like short walks or gentle stretches can help to keep a person active. If you have a family history of arthritis – particularly rheumatoid arthritis – and you’re worried about it affecting you in the future, regular movement and exercise is a great way to prevent the onset of the condition in the first place.

Standard painkillers and anti-inflammatories (like paracetamol and ibuprofen) can be used to deal with the pain. Other more specific medication may be prescribed by your GP depending on personal cases. They can assess the severity of the condition and the extent of the pain to suggest the best course of treatment for you or your loved one.

There isn’t necessarily a direct connection between a good diet and easing symptoms of arthritis. However, maintaining a healthy and well-balanced diet is good for all-round wellbeing. Some foods rich in Omega-3 are reportedly good for reducing inflammation, so eating more oily fish, nuts, seeds and supplements could have some small benefit for arthritis sufferers.

Levels of support

Caring for somebody who is living with arthritis requires a considerable understanding of their particular situation. Depending on their age, ability and severity of condition, some may need more help and attention than others. Recognising this among individuals allows you to provide appropriate and effective levels of care, best suited to meet their needs.

By providing company, support and reassurance, you can ensure that your loved one is looked after as much as possible. However it’s important to understand they may feel frustrated over being unable to do certain things and the pain they regularly experience, which can have a knock-on effect on their happiness and mental wellbeing.

To keep up the optimism, try encouraging the person to focus on what they can do rather than what they can’t. Allow them to do things for themselves, but make sure to let them know you can offer a hand should they need it. Ultimately, this will help them to maintain a positive attitude and feel a sense of accomplishment, aiding them mentally as well as physically.