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The Arthritis Newsletter

Summer 2011

Around the House & Garden

 

The diagnosis of arthritis may present a person with a myriad of feelings from shock, dismay, and uncertainty to frustration, anger, denial, and hopelessness. But it’s also an issue for everyone in the family!

 

Simple tasks can become overwhelming challenges when you live with arthritis. Buttoning a shirt or slicing a tomato can be impossible if you don’t have the right tools. CAB members would like to share with you some of our favourite techniques and products that are easy on the hands and other weak joints. We hope these tips will help make your everyday tasks a little easier.

 

CAB members have also benefited from the guidance of physical and occupational therapists, who have helped us learn better approaches to everyday tasks. Talk to your doctor about meeting with a physical therapist and an occupational therapist. A physiotherapist helps you maintain and make the most use of your range of motion and strength. An occupational therapist helps you find practical ways to manage particular tasks and minimize the effort involved. Physiotherapists and occupational therapists can help you to be more aware of your body mechanics while performing household tasks.

 

In the Kitchen

 

  • Organize your cupboards so that the items you use most are easy to reach.
  • A lightweight stepstool can help you reach items without having to stretch to reach.
  • Alleviate the discomfort of standing at the stove or sink for long periods by standing on a gel-filled mat or sitting on a barstool.
  • Think “lightweight” when purchasing dishes: Heavy stoneware dishes are difficult to grab and loading them in and out of cupboards and dishwasher can be hard on your finger joints and wrists.
  • Two handles are better than one: Using a pot or a pan with two handles helps distribute the weight more evenly between both of your hands and wrists.
  • Scrubbing can be hard on the joints so let your pots soak overnight with dishwasher detergent in them.
  • Fat is better than thin: Trying to grip small thin handles can be painful and almost impossible; buy small kitchen tools such as potato peelers with thick handles, thereby reducing pressure on your joints and making it easier to hold these small items. To avoid replacing new kitchen tools, simply purchase foam rubber tubing to slide over handles at an “Aids to Daily Living” store in your area.
  • Painful, swollen joints can make chopping and slicing difficult. Reduced hand strength requires ergonomically designed knives. These knives are much easier to grasp and allow you to use your whole arm to cut and chop. Or, let a food processor do the chopping, slicing, mixing, and shredding. Because of its weight, a food processor is best stored on the counter for easy access – no problem; new designs have made them an attractive addition to your kitchen.
  • Not able to open a can of tuna, one CAB member was motivated to purchase a one-touch can opener. An electric can opener would have done just as well, but this member liked the fact that the one-touch was small, lightweight, and easy to store. Bottle and jar openers are also available.
  • A wet washcloth can be used to anchor bowls and cutting boards to the countertop.
  • “Twist off” jar lids are easier to open if you circle them with a wide rubber band that you leave in place on the lid.
  • When possible, double your recipe. This will give you a break from cooking the next day, or you can freeze the leftovers for those days when cooking is impossible.
  • Reduced range of motion can be frustrating. To avoid the expense of reach extenders and grabbers to get to items at the back of the refrigerator, on the top shelf of your closet, or that sock stuck on the far wall of the clothes dryer, get a metal hanger, stretch it out to full length without damaging the hook, and voila, you have a grabber. A CAB member has one on most door handles in her home.
  • Use a wheeled island or cart to move food to the table. Locking casters are an important feature to ensure stability while stationary.

 

Household tasks

 

Doing the Laundry:

  • Socks and small undergarments can be difficult to get out of the bottom of the washing machine. Mesh bags help keep small items together so they are easier to collect and don’t get lost.
  • Say goodbye to your iron. If you miss the dryer alarm and the clothes become wrinkled, no problem, just a 5-minute reheat in the dryer will release wrinkles from clothes. If you must iron, put a chair or stool in your ironing area.
  • Avoid lifting heavy detergent containers – buying in bulk can save money; however, the heavy detergent containers can be difficult to lift. Have someone (friend or family member) transfer the detergent into smaller bottles.
  • To avoid carrying a heavy hamper down the stairs, sort your clothes, place a load in a sack or pillowcase, and then simply drag or throw the sack down the stairs.
  • Laundromat – Use a pushcart to bring clothes to and from the Laundromat…remember to push the cart, not pull.

Maintaining Floors and Carpets:

  • Use brooms and dust pans with long handles to sweep floors; they will allow you to stand upright rather than bend while sweeping.
  • Vacuum cleaners can be difficult to push and pull, so consider an electric broom instead.

Cleaning:

  • Keep cleaning supplies distributed around the house so that you don’t have to carry them far, especially if you live in a two-storey home.
  • An apron with deep pockets can make it easier to carry cleaning supplies and dust cloths from room to room.
  • Dusters with telescopic handles allow you to get to high and low spots without having to reach up or bend down.
  • Investigate your eligibility to receive subsidized home cleaning support through the provincial government’s Ministry of Health.

Making the Bed:

  • Maneuvering weighty bedding is difficult. One of the biggest challenges is the dreaded bottom fitted sheet that sometimes “just” fits our mattress. Buying a single flat sheet to use as a bottom sheet lessens the burden of trying to fit a tight sheet on the mattress. If you don’t want to give up the fitted sheet, try using a long-handled wooden spoon to tuck the sheet under the mattress or ask a visiting friend or relative for assistance.

Dressing

 

  • Buttoning and zipping clothes can be challenging; fortunately, there are button aids and zipper aids available.
    • Avoid wearing pants with zippers and buttons when possible, especially around the house. Trendy yoga pants, which can be worn both at home and about town, are a great alternative for both men and women.
    • For shirts with button cuffs: have buttons sewn on sleeve cuffs with elastic thread. This will allow your hand to slip through without having to undo the button.
    • Craft stores carry packages of key rings that can be attached to zipper tabs to make them easier to grasp. You may need someone to help you install these rings.
  • Put your belt through all the belt loops on your pants before stepping into the pants as this avoids stressful reaching behind your back to thread the belt in place.
  • If you have difficulty tying a necktie, purchase a clip-on tie or bowtie. These ties offer the benefit of not having to slip the tie over the head when your shoulders are compromised.
  • For women, consider buying a front-fastening bra; it will be less onerous to do up.
  • Slip-on shoes are much easier to put on and take off, and a long handled shoehorn will prevent you from having to bend down to put on your shoes. If you do not want to replace your lace-up shoes, consider purchasing elastic shoelaces that don’t require untying. Despite the convenience, some may find slip-on shoes easy to FALL OUT OF.
  • Buy summer sandals with Velcro straps for easy removal (these are also great for travelling and passing through airport security checks).
  • Jewelry clasps, which are often finicky, can be impossible to fasten. Magnetic clasps are now available. They easily attach to your existing jewelry; they use magnetic force to effortlessly pull the ends together to secure your jewelry in place. Also, choose necklaces that are long enough to slip over your head.
  • Lessen the load: Heavy briefcases and purses can add unnecessary strain to hands and shoulders. Carry only necessary items in your purse or briefcase. To distribute the weight, switch to a backpack. Carrying purses and briefcases with wide straps that cross the chest and shoulder allows hands-free shopping. Gentlemen, remember that sitting on a bulky wallet can cause pain in the back and hips.

 

Toilette

 

  • An electric toothbrush makes it easier to maintain proper dental hygiene.
  • Do you find flossing a problem and something just too intricate to manage with your hands? Buy pre-threaded floss harps.
  • People with arthritis probably appreciate lightweight objects more than most. The good news is that items such as blow dryers are now being redesigned to make them easier to use. Check for the word “lightweight” on the box.
  • Some days, squeezing a shampoo bottle may be impossible, so purchase pump shampoo and conditioner bottles which can be utilized using the palm of your hand. If your favourite shampoo/conditioner doesn’t provide that option, buy a pump bottle at the dollar store and have someone fill it with your favourite shampoo or conditioner.
  • Tabletop nail clippers are anchored to a base so that you can simply place your nail in the cutter and press down the clip with the palm of your hand.
  • Grabbing and twisting ball-type sink handles can be difficult; doing it with wet hands is an added challenge. A lever handle is easier to use; it can be pushed forward or backward with the weight of your hand. Door lever handles work equally as well, no more twisting your wrist. With lever door handles simply push the handle down with your hand or elbow.
  • If your toilet is too low, purchase an adapter to raise the seat. These are available at most drug stores.
  • Grab bars can be installed over the bathtub and near the toilet to prevent falls and make it easier to get up. A suction mat in the tub and shower can also prevent falls.

 

Time To Relax

Sitting/Reading/Watching TV:

  • When purchasing chairs, remember that armrests offer support and help you stand from a sitting position. Also, chairs that are too low or too soft can be difficult to get in and out of. Physiotherapists and occupational therapists can help you choose a chair that is right for you.
  • A few CAB members rave about their recliners; however, they caution everyone to try them out in the store before buying. Make sure the recliner provides proper neck and lumbar support and relieves pressure on the hips and knees.
  • Try not to sit for longer than an hour without taking a quick break to stand up and stretch.
  • Position the TV so that you are not titling your neck up or sideways to view. Watching TV with your neck in an awkward position can cause neck pain.
  • When holding a book is difficult, use a lap desk or purchase an e-reader. E-readers are easier to hold, carry and transport.

Sleeping:

  • Satin nightgowns and pajamas do not “stick” to cotton and flannel sheets, making it easier to turn over and slide in and out of bed. Satin sheets are also effective!!!
  • It can be exhausting and sometimes impossible to manipulate heavy bedding. Replacing heavy covers and bedspreads with near weightless feather, down, silk, or microfibre-filled duvets can alleviate this problem. Another solution to heavy bedding is a lightweight electric blanket. If you have a partner who likes a warmer or a cooler bed than you do, buy a blanket with separate temperature controls.
  • A bedside lamp that you can switch on and off with a gentle touch is essential.
  • Take a warm bath to help you relax before bed. For added enjoyment, add natural oils such as lavender.
  • To avoid a trip hazard, ensure the path from the bed to the toilet is unobstructed. And, remove scatter rugs from floor to avoid tripping on their edges.
  • If you need to get up in the night, consider using a small night light to safely illuminate the access corridor or the bathroom.
  • Don’t walk about in ordinary socks, they make it too easy for you to slip and fall; if you don’t like slippers and do like to wear socks, then buy socks with grip pads along their soles (available from medical supply houses). They’re soft and warm and can be tossed in the wash with your regular socks.

Gardening

 

  • Everyone loves a garden, but often a lust for too many high maintenance plants comes over us with the arrival of Spring. Before rushing off to the nearest garden centre, ask yourself how able you are to transplant, weed, or prune, and how much time each week you will be able to devote to the upkeep of your garden.
  • Take time to plan your garden plantings carefully. If you want to have a low maintenance garden, choose a planting scheme with a primary emphasis on easy care perennials.
  • Minimize weeding by making generous use of mulch. You can use landscape fabric for this purpose, wood or bark chips, even shredded newspapers and lawn clippings.
  • Whether you have a green thumb or not, working in the garden can be rewarding – especially if you have the right tools. Home improvement stores, garden centres, and landscape shops carry garden tools made for people with hand and strength limitations. The tools, rakes, spades, hoes and three-prong claws are smaller in width than conventional garden tools. They have a lightweight aluminum shaft that extends from 32 to 50 inches and a thick rubber grip for ease of handling. Tools like these make gardening fun.
  • Keep your pruners and clippers sharp and well oiled to make cutting and pruning easier. Check your local hardware store for sharpening services.
  • If the handles of your tools are too thin to grip comfortably, wrap them with insulation foam and secure the foam with electrical tape. And, take a break from doing any activities that require gripping for long periods of time.
  • Transport your garden supplies in a garden cart or wear a carpenter’s apron to carry small tools.
  • Container gardens offer many benefits even for those with only a small outdoor space. CAB member Joyce writes,

    Container gardening is so much fun and so easy to do. You can have one or a hundred pots; it all depends on how much time and energy you have. It’s magical watching what you’ve planted grow, blossom, and sometimes bear fruit. To avoid planting every year, instead of annual plants, choose your favourite perennial plants, such as strawberries, blueberries, chives, green onions, parsley, etc. and your favourite perennial flowers.

    When planning your container garden, place the heavy pots or the tall plants in the back, the smaller pots and shorter plants in front and plan the location so that it’s permanent. A pot dolly works well to move heavier pots. Instead of a heavy watering can, use a lightweight water hose. For persons with limited range of motion, you can raise your plants on top of benches or hang them on a post, for easy access.

    Have a chair and small table handy where you can sit and rest in between gardening or where you can enjoy a coffee break. During the summer months, my sundeck is my refuge. Sitting amidst the beauty of my flowers is so peaceful. Sometimes I go out to my sundeck in the middle of the night, when everyone is asleep, and find comfort in the beauty of my garden.

  • For those who don’t have a spot for a garden, look into “community gardens” or “food garden plots”, which are available in some communities. These are good places for people to meet others, learn from other gardeners and generally feel supported. In the lower mainland you can find community gardens that cater to persons with disabilities. One such garden is Cottonwood Community Garden in East Vancouver. Check for community gardens in your neighborhood.
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