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Caring for a Loved One With Arthritis

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Millions of Americans are family caregivers. Discover strategies and resources for managing a caregiving burden for those with arthritis.

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Does someone you love have arthritis, and is it becoming an increasing burden for day-to-day activities?

You’re not alone. As of 2021, over 53 million Americans were unpaid family caregivers! This can put an immense strain on family caregivers, financially, physically and emotionally.

But if you don’t find ways to manage their condition, things will get tougher for both of you. The burden this can place on families, and the guilt that can accompany it, cannot be overstated. Having a plan for care is vitally important.

Every year, thousands of people deal with worsening arthritis, and it impacts those around them as they struggle with tasks that were previously simple.

If you’re caring for someone with arthritis, you’ve experienced this. What’s more, the task is unlikely to get any easier in the coming months and years. That’s why it’s important to know what resources are available to you and your loved one.

What is Arthritis?

Arthritis is the swelling of joints in the body. This is often accompanied by tenderness and pain in those joints.

Mild forms of arthritis are often still painful, even if those who suffer from it don’t always need caregiving assistance. But the condition is often progressive, worsening as you age.

Types of Arthritis

Arthritis isn’t a single condition. There are several types of arthritis. The most common are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

Bones form joints in our body. To prevent pain and swelling, there are slippery layers of cartilage that prevent them from rubbing together. This cartilage breaks down in those with osteoarthritis.

Conversely, RA is when the immune system attacks the joints. Cartilage that lines the joints is often the first thing to go in these attacks.

Symptoms and treatment can vary depending on the type and severity of arthritis that you have. Maintaining quality of life and reduction of pain are common goals regardless of type, though.

Common Effects of Arthritis

General pain, swelling and tenderness in the affected area are the most commonly cited symptoms of arthritis. This is true regardless of which type of arthritis it is.

This can lead to other common symptoms as well. Muscles in these areas often atrophy to some extent. The cartilage damage itself contributes to this, and it can also be caused by atrophied muscles due to disuse. If a joint is very painful, many who suffer will avoid using those joints and related muscles, which can lead to this muscle degradation.

Downstream effects from these symptoms such as a decrease in range of motion and trouble with mobility-related tasks are also common.

It’s at this point that we can introduce the concept of caregiving. Some common markers used for care needs are activities of daily living, or ADLs. Bathing, Continence, Dressing, Eating, Toileting and Transferring are all ADLs.

It’s not hard to see how someone with arthritis could struggle with one or more of these. This then necessitates some form of caregiving, either through a home care professional, facility-based care, or informal family caregiver.

The last of these is the focus of this article, though if you’re a professional caregiver or looking for facility-based care, we encourage you to explore the resources below that are more tailored to your needs:

Thousands of spouses, adult children, roommates and other loved ones end up acting as caregivers each year, due to difficulties their friend or family member has with these activities of daily living.

Typical Caregiving Assistance for Those With Arthritis

What are some of the common tasks caregivers are asked to perform to assist those with arthritis?

A glance through those activities of daily living listed above will start to give you a good idea, but some specific tasks could include the following:

  • Meal prep. Working with cooking utensils can be difficult, particularly with multi-step cooking processes.
  • Ride assistance. Some doctor visits and errands can’t be done from home, even in our increasingly digital world. Transporting your loved one may be necessary.
  • Medication management. Medicine can assist with arthritic conditions, but managing them is sometimes the responsibility of a caregiver.
  • Exercise and movement assistance. If many arthritis sufferers aren’t consistently active, their condition can worsen and other muscular deficiencies or medical conditions can form. Encouraging their activity and assisting as necessary can be a valuable caregiving task.

Easing the Caregiving Burden

There are also proactive things you can do to help both your loved one and yourself as you care for them:

  1. Adopt digital tools for difficult tasks. Above, we talked about doctor visits and errands. Many of these can be done from home these days. It’s not without challenges, but being able to utilize telehealth solutions or online shopping for groceries, for example, can make it so that a caregiver doesn’t have to be present constantly for these tasks. Ridesharing services can often be of assistance as well.
  2. Create a more accessible home environment. Making one’s home safe and accessible for those with health issues can be a challenge, but it can save years of caregiving effort to make home safety upgrades for those suffering from arthritis.
  3. Explore respite care options. It’s ok to ask for help. Care options exist to help ease the burden on family caregivers who may be trying to juggle family, a love life, social life and a full-time job along with caregiving responsibilities.
  4. Communicate with your family member. Caregiving is a two-way street. Including them in the process can help to communicate challenges and work through them together.
  5. Explore Adult Day Care options. Similar to respite care, adult day care centers can provide a welcoming, engaging environment for seniors while giving you the space you need for other responsibilities.

Managing Emotional Burnout as a Caregiver

The other side of caregiving is the emotional side. This is what causes burnout, stress, and can lead to family members having to quit their jobs or eliminate their social or romantic lives simply to keep up with caregiving needs.

There’s no simple, one-size-fits-all solution here, but there are strategies to consider.

The first is to remember: you aren’t alone. As the article linked above states, approximately 1 in 5 Americans provides some level of caregiving services to a loved one.

ALSO READ: The Future of Caregiving: Integrated Approaches to Support Individuals and Families

Here are some other considerations that can help to prevent, mitigate and eliminate emotional burnout:

  • Be aware of the signs of burnout. This could include increased levels of fatigue, irritability, depressive episodes, and more.
  • Ask for help. We outlined some services above that can provide institutional help, such as adult day care centers and respite care services. But asking for help goes beyond this, to other family members and friends. Don’t accept the burden alone, and find ways to share responsibility with others.
  • Explore nonprofit and insurance-funded options. Your loved one may not have Long-Term Care Insurance, which can be used to fund home care services when you meet certain conditions. But other, regional options exist in some areas that can provide caregiving assistance without massive costs.

Finding Caregiving Assistance

The best way to avoid the stress of caring for a loved one is to have a plan in place before it becomes necessary, through financial vehicles such as Long-Term Care Insurance. If you’re already in the role of caregiver, this may not be possible. But that doesn’t mean you can’t find help and assistance.

If you’re looking for home care services, the LTC News Care Directory has over 80,000 organization listings. You can find and contact services near you that may be able to provide assistance.

Beyond that, a proactive approach that acknowledges the many responsibilities you have as a caregiver is the best approach. Seeking out aid and assistance can be the difference between enjoying your role as a family caregiver and resenting it.

You deserve support and your loved ones deserve support. Don’t let arthritis rob you both of the well-being that everyone should be able to achieve. And if you’re searching for services related to care, check out the LTC News Care Directory below for more!


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