How can I help someone with arthritis?
If you know someone with arthritis, there may be many ways you could offer them your help.
How that help will look will depend on how serious their arthritis is and what help they want.
An important first step is to try to understand how they’re feeling, both physically and emotionally. So, good communication is important.
It can be tricky to find the right balance between letting a partner, friend, relative or colleague know you’re happy to help, without being over-bearing. But don’t let that stop you wanting to help, and finding out if you can.
Help could come in many forms, and it might involve:
- having a chat and hearing about someone’s worries and anxieties
- going to a healthcare appointment with someone
- doing some practical tasks around the home or garden.
Finding out what help, if any, is needed is the important first step.
What should I know about the condition of the person I care for?
It can really help to know what someone is going through if you want to help them.
The word arthritis simply means when a joint or joints are swollen, stiff and painful. There are a number of different types of arthritis, these include:
Finding out which type of arthritis your partner, relative, friend or colleague has would help. And then you could find out more about that condition. Things to think about could be:
- What are the main symptoms?
- What treatment options are there?
- How is this condition likely to affect people over the short, medium and long term?
The person you want to help might be happy to talk to you about this.
Arthritis is sometimes described as an invisible condition, because you don’t always see the pain, stiffness, fatigue and depression. It can also vary from day to day, and from week to week.
Pain from arthritis can be long term and dealing with it regularly for a long time, is not easy.
What do I need to talk about with the person I care for?
Good communication is essential. It’s important that both you and the person you want to help know how the other person is feeling.
You need to agree how to work together so that they’ll feel able to ask if they need extra help.
Respect the wishes of your friend, partner, relative or colleague who has arthritis. Being over-bearing, even when you are being well meaning, could hurt someone’s self-esteem.
Starting these conversations as kindly, gently and sincerely as possible, and trying your best not to sound patronising will be greatly appreciated.
Communication will also help you judge how the person you’re caring for is feeling so you can respond in a sensitive way. They’ll need to feel supported and reassured that you don’t resent the responsibility falling on you.
How can I help someone with the physical challenges of arthritis?
You may not be able to do much to ease your friend, partner, relative or colleague’s pain, stiffness, fatigue or any other physical symptom.
They may well need to see a healthcare professional to talk about treatment options.
You might be able to talk things through with them. Things you might be able to discuss are:
- Are they on the best treatment for them? There are treatment and pain relief options for every type of arthritis. You might be able to help your friend find out about these and encourage them to discuss them with their doctor.
- Are they able to keep active? Is there any support healthcare professionals could offer in terms of staying active? This might be something you could help with, either in terms of offering support and motivation, or offering to go for a walk, swim or to the gym with them.
If a particular activity is causing problems, encourage the person you’re trying to help to see if there is a different way of doing that task, or if there are aids and adaptations that might help.
If they want to, you could have a chat about the tasks they’re struggling with and write a list of possible solutions and ways to avoid problems. You might be able to help with some, if that’s what they want and you’re willing and able to.
The person you’re helping might benefit from seeing a physiotherapist or occupational therapist.
A physiotherapist is a trained healthcare professional who can help people with medical conditions like arthritis. They will be able to offer advice on exercising and staying active. The aim is to help people manage their own condition and symptoms.
An occupational therapist can help people with arthritis with tasks they’re finding difficult, at home, school or in the workplace.
People can either get a referral from a GP to see a physiotherapist or occupational therapist. Or they can see one privately.
It might be that the person you’re helping is happy for you attend an appointment with a physiotherapist, occupational therapist or another healthcare professional. This could be helpful for a number of reasons:
- It might be motivational and supportive.
- You could think of questions or issues that haven’t been covered.
- Afterwards, you could help your friend, partner or relative with some of the aspects of what was recommended.
Sometimes fatigue can be as difficult to cope with as the pain itself. Fatigue has been described as severe and persistent tiredness that doesn’t improve with sleep. It can really affect people’s energy levels and mood.
If someone you know has fatigue because of their arthritis, trying to understand what they are going through and offering to help, could make someone feel a bit better.
How can I help with the emotional challenges of arthritis?
Not surprisingly arthritis can make people feel down or worried.
Try to encourage the person you know who has arthritis to let you know if they are struggling with their mood. If someone is depressed or anxious, you should encourage them to see a doctor.
If you let your partner, friend, relative or colleague know that you are there for them if they need to talk, that can be a big relief. Look out for signs that they are not feeling good emotionally.
Physical activity and exercise can help improve people’s mood. Suggesting going out for a walk, a coffee and a change of scenery might really help.
Try to make sure that the person you want to help knows where to turn if they are feeling down or anxious. The following could help:
- Versus Arthritis has a free helpline, open from Monday to Friday, 9am to 8pm. The number is 0800 5200 520 and there is also an email address firstname.lastname@example.org. It’s staffed by trained advisors who deal with a wide variety of enquiries. But they are not medically trained and are unable to deal with specific medical queries.
- Versus Arthritis also has an online forum where people with arthritis and related conditions offer one another support, advice and information.
- If someone you know is feeling really down or anxious, they could always call the charity Samaritans on 116 123. This is a charity aimed at providing emotional support to anyone in emotional distress, struggling to cope or at risk of suicide in the UK and Ireland.
Looking after yourself if you’re a carer
You may not think of yourself as a carer.
But if you’re looking after someone with arthritis or a related condition, and without your help they’d struggle to cope, you’re classed as a carer by the charity Carers Trust.
You may be perfectly happy to care for someone you love and there are many positive and rewarding aspects of caring. But it’s also ok to recognise that in different ways, caring can take its toll. There are things you can do to look after yourself and places to turn to for support.
There can be a financial cost to caring, if it means you need to work less or even give up work. See the section below on ‘What benefits are we entitled to?’.
Caring for someone can affect your mental and physical health. It can be stressful and possibly affect your sleep. Making sure the person you care for has the right support and treatment from healthcare services can be tough.
All this can make you physically and emotionally tired.
It can be difficult to care for someone and find time for yourself. But it’s important to look after your own physical and mental health and well-being. Being healthy and happy is very important to your quality of life, and it will also make you better placed to care for someone.
Try to make time to do the things you enjoy – hobbies, keeping fit and seeing other friends and relatives.
If the person you care for needs a lot of attention, you could see if there is anyone else capable and happy to share the caring.
The consumers’ group and charity Which? has some good advice and support for carers – Being a carer.
What benefits are we entitled to?
You might be entitled to benefits if you’re helping to look after someone with arthritis.
Carer’s Allowance is available to people who look after someone for more than 35 hours a week. For more information, visit the government’s web pages about Carer’s Allowance. The NHS also has some information about benefits for carers.
The person you know who has arthritis might be entitled to various state benefits to help cover the cost of living with arthritis.
We have information about the main benefits people with arthritis can claim. You and the person you want to help could have a look at the information on these pages about potential financial support and benefits available.
The Disability Service Centre can offer advice or information about some benefits.
The Benefit Enquiry Line provides advice and information for people about some benefits in Northern Ireland.
If you have any questions or concerns about what benefits you, or someone you know with arthritis, might be entitled to you could contact Citizens Advice. This is a network of charities that can offer people advice on a wide range of issues, including benefits.
Research and new developments
Versus Arthritis continues to fund and support research into all areas of arthritis and other musculoskeletal conditions. We're currently funding several educational grants to investigate the informational needs of people who care for those with arthritis. We're also funding a project to develop a web-based tool for support and self-management of young people with arthritis and their carers.
Where can I find out more
Action for Children
Phone: 0300 123 2112
Phone: 020 7378 4999
Advice line: 0808 808 7777
Phone: 0300 772 9600
Citizens Advice Bureau
To find your local office, see the Citizens Advice website.
Phone: 0808 800 3333
Helpline: 0800 0699 784
Queen Elizabeth’s Foundation for Disabled People (QEF)
Phone: 01372 841100
RiDC (Research Institute for Disabled Consumers)
Phone: 020 7427 2460
For brothers and sisters of disabled children and adults.