The idea of living independently with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) might seem difficult sometimes. But with some planning and adjustment, most people with RA are more than capable of maintaining a sense of well-being and independence. Consider these tips for living self-sufficiently with RA.
1. Know that you’re not alone
Living independently should never mean living in isolation. Build a strong community of support so you can live independently by living interdependently.
For example, set up a monthly meal circle with your friends — everyone prepares and delivers one meal a month to another household. The month-long cycle is manageable for most, and you can always trade with a friend if you can’t meet your monthly commitment.
Even on a good day, RA’s painful, swollen joints and fatigue can make you want to get back on your sofa. It’s critical to your health and independence that you don’t. Make sure you have movement and activity goals every day, and then put in place easier goals for the days you can’t do quite as much.
Daily exercise will help strengthen your joints and the muscles that support them. Daily motion will also help keep your weight in a healthy range, which lessens burdens on your joints. All this adds up to a body that does more of what you want, when you want it to, which is core to your independence.
Here are some ideas for daily motion:
Walking: Walking is the simplest of human activities, and it turns out to have many health benefits. Depending on which of your joints is affected with RA, walking could be tricky but not impossible. If necessary, use assistive devices like a walking stick, hiking poles, or a walker.
Water exercise: Exercising in water removes pressure on your joints while allowing you to build muscle. Consider participating in water exercise led by a coach, or just get in a pool to play and swim.
Tai chi: This ancient Chinese martial art doubles as a relaxing exercise routine. The slow-motion activity is easy on joints and stretches muscles. Tai chi improves balance and can be adapted for just about any level of fitness — you can even do it while sitting.
Before starting a new exercise routine, talk to your doctor about what kind of exercise may be best for you.
3. Stay connected with work
Work may force you out of bed and into a commute, require you to interact with customers or co-workers, and cut into family and friend time. But it can also be a source of great pride and reward. In our work-oriented society, not being employed leads to isolation, which can result in depression — already a risk if you have RA. Additionally, an employer’s health plan and savings for retirement when you’re ready will both help keep you independent.
4. Find the tools
RA often affects the joints of your hands and wrists. And because it’s bilateral, you lose function in both sides of your body. People with RA can have difficulty with a great number of daily tasks. Opening a jar of peanut butter or getting the last bit of shampoo out of a bottle simply might not be possible without some assistance. Retain your independence by using assistive devices for day-to-day chores.
Many people with RA rely on electric can openers to help in the kitchen, as well as specially designed kitchen tools with larger handles. Shower bars and handles in your bathroom can keep you balanced. If you have difficulty moving your fingers, consider shoes that fasten with Velcro, rather than cumbersome shoelaces.
Asking for help doesn’t mean you’re helpless. In fact, it can result in building a closer community, one you come to value not only for what it can do for you, but also for the many intimate interactions you develop along the way.