Supporting a person with arthritis

Arthritis is a difficult condition to understand as an onlooker. The pain is invisible and unpredictable. Some days are good. Other days are not. Arthritis challenges the affected person’s ability to accomplish the basics—simple tasks, such as opening jars or walking up stairs. Such disability can generate feelings of frustration and low self-worth. The chronic pain may also lead to fatigue, depression, and anxiety.

The link between arthritis and depression is particularly insidious: 19% of those with arthritis experience depression, as compared to only 8% of the general population. For those with arthritis, there is a vicious cycle: Pain, fatigue, and disability lead to depression. And depression leads to a greater perception of pain and a reduced ability to marshal one’s forces to manage the pain.

Fortunately, family support can help break the cycle:

  • Learn what you can about the particular form of arthritis affecting your loved one.
  • Understand that the arthritis symptoms come in flares. It changes from day to day. Ask each day how the pain is on a scale of 1 (no pain) to 10 (extreme pain).
  • Ask your relative about what life is like with this condition. What is frustrating? What is tiring?
  • Support them to cultivate hobbies that have a low impact on joints.
  • Ask how you can help. Don’t assume. There is a downside to helping too much. It can exacerbate a person’s sense of low self-worth.
  • Encourage your relative to actively manage the pain and flares. Respect their decisions about what works best for them. The unpredictability of arthritis has already robbed them of the ability to control many aspects of their lives. They need to retain control in as many other areas as possible.
  • Suggest your loved one talk to the doctor about depression. One of the best ways to break the depression–pain cycle is to treat both.