Arthritis. The word literally means joint inflammation and
includes more than 100 different diseases, all of which center
around bodily aches and pains and the aggravations that accompany
those wretched symptoms. For the patient, what was once daily
routine threatens to become the daily grind unless stringent
emotional and physical expectations are put into place. And for the
person charged as caregiver, love and understanding heavily flavored
with a no-nonsense approach to moving ahead are the best ways to
help the person trying admirably to see him- or herself in a new
light. Call it tough love, but know it’s the right way.
As the nation’s leading cause of disability, arthritis affects one
in three adults and nearly 300,000 children. To hear a diagnosis of
arthritis understandably causes fear, but it is important not to
give into this emotion, for in a self-perpetuating cycle, fear leads
to stress and stress negatively affects the disease. In a pattern
similar to that of grieving, the newly diagnosed patient might feel
fear, then anger, anxiety and depression before finally coming to a
place of acceptance or denial. The patient in denial is a person not
yet ready to see things the way they are, and he or she will require
more help and counseling from caregivers as well as professionals to
come to a place of acceptance.
The Arthritis Foundation celebrates National Arthritis Month in May
of each year and challenges those with arthritis to “More Life, Less
Limits,” encouraging them to take control of their situations.
Stating that the disease should not have the final word, the
Arthritis Foundation encourages patients and their caregivers to
“seek more and do more,” not giving in to inactivity or a sedentary
And so exactly what can caregivers and those diagnosed do to counter
the negative aspects of this potentially debilitating diagnosis?
First of all, according to the Arthritis Foundation, an early
diagnosis is critical in order to prevent less joint damage and
pain. Patients should avoid excess stress on their joints, using
larger or stronger joints to carry things. Care should be taken to
maintain weight at its appropriate level so that undue pressure on
hips and knees can be avoided. A diet rich in calcium and fiber
along with fruits, vegetables and protein will yield beneficial
results. Proper exercise is very important and will lessen pain,
increase range of motion and prevent fatigue. Swimming, walking0and
stretching are0ideal, but0finding something enjoyable to0ensure
continued pleasure0is important0as well. Listening to0favorite
tunes0can lighten moods and cancel out pain for a while. In fact,
working hard to introduce humor into life in spite of pain can be
one of the best assists around. Laughing relaxes muscles, relieves
pain and boosts the immune system. The foundation goes on to suggest
other healthy options like drinking orange juice or eating oranges
for the inherent Vitamin C, antioxidant and folic acid benefits.
Little extras like that warm bath before bed can work wonders for
aching extremities, and finding a certified massage therapist
promises pleasure. Journaling can help otherwise unexpressed
emotions find a much-needed outlet. And, by the way, indulge
yourself. Wear comfy shoes, forgetting those fashionable but
toe-cramping options so readily available at the mall. Do something
nice for yourself, like deciding to quit smoking. Did you know that
smoking increases lupus and rheumatoid arthritis complications and
can play a role in the development of osteoporosis? Finally, says
the foundation, reach outside of yourself to help others, thus
temporarily forgetting your own maladies. And seek a higher power,
as spiritual involvement has been shown to help people feel better
physically and emotionally.
Certainly, the caregivers of those afflicted have their own agendas
of uncertainty. To know that your spouse, child or parent has just
been diagnosed with a potentially crippling disorder means you will
have questions about how your life will be affected. Will more daily
demands be placed on your shoulders? Will you be able to fulfill
your own hopes and dreams as well as those you once had with your
child, parent or significant other? While it is understandable to
have questions and feel fearful, it is important not to let them
overtake your sense of wellbeing. Here are some suggestions that can
help you stay strong and cope.
Confucius said, “Tell me and I’ll forget. Show me and I’ll remember.
Involve me and I’ll understand.” These wise words lend credence to
the importance of communication for the caregiver:
Talk to your doctor and ask questions of him or her. Writing down
questions as they occur and keeping them handy will ensure that
answers are obtained in a timely manner.
Seek out your friends, particularly those who may have similar
situations and can relate. Consider these wise words: “True
friendship isn’t about being there when it’s convenient, it’s about
being there when it’s not.”
Join a support group. Airing your questions and concerns won’t just
help you. It may help the others who are also present.
Most importantly, perhaps, communicate with the person for whom you
are caring, whether that’s your spouse, your parent or your child.
Call on others for support and assistance. While this may not be
easy, it is important. Be ready to be very specific with your
Getting to know some people who have lived full lives in spite of
arthritis will provide inspiration that goes a long way. Lucille
Ball, well-known film and television actress, suffered with
rheumatoid arthritis as a young woman and was unable to walk for two
years. But her famous television show, “I Love Lucy”, the first
situation comedy to be filmed before a live audience, won five Emmy
awards and was the number one show in America after only four months
on the air. And Auguste Renoir, famed French impressionistic painter
and sculptor, suffered with rheumatoid arthritis and actually had to
have his paintbrushes tied to his hands so that he might create his
works of art. He eventually became paralyzed in both legs and
turned to sculpting when he could no longer paint.
Learn about arthritis. Read books, seek counsel, even surf the web
(but be careful to make sure the websites you visit are reliable).
www.arthritis.org is the website for the Arthritis Foundation and
provides a wealth of information and resources.
Take Care of Yourself
As a caregiver, it is far too
easy to neglect your own needs. Follow these suggestions, though,
and you’ll be ready for the demands that caregiving requires:
Exercise. Swimming and
walking are great outlets for those with arthritis and can easily be
enjoyed in couples or larger groups.
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