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Smart Home Hacks Can Boost Independence, Mobility, and Comfort for People with RA
Arthritis, which includes more than 100 different types of rheumatic conditions, is a common cause of disability in the United States. It affects 23 percent of U.S. adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Maintaining mobility in the home is important for people who live with conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis (RA), a progressive disease that can impair mobility over time. Making simple, low-cost modifications to your home can make it easier for you to get around and prevent falls, the leading cause of injury and deaths from injury in older Americans, according to the National Council on Aging.
What’s more, some small changes can help keep you comfortable and independent even when you aren’t feeling well. Here are some tips for making your home a safe zone.
Minimize Trip Hazards; Risk for Falls That RA Pain and Stiffness Can Cause
Get serious about basic safety. If joint pain from rheumatoid arthritis makes walking difficult, remove all tripping hazards. When your carpet is worn, repair or replace it. If you have area rugs, a simple home improvement is to secure their edges with double-sided tape. Or cut non-slip mesh, sold in home stores, to the size of the rug and place it underneath.
Don't use throw or scatter rugs, especially not at the top or bottom of a stairway — they can easily cause you to slip and fall, whether or not you have arthritis. Also be sure to use non-wax finishes on any wooden or vinyl floors.
Tap Your Resources for Upgrades + Renovations
Don't hesitate to ask your doctor for help assessing home health and safety. She may be able to write prescriptions for a home assessment and/or occupational therapy visits. These home-based services can lead to solutions such as better floor-cover options or bathroom upgrades.
Secure Bathroom Surfaces to Help Prevent Slips Related to RA Pain and Swelling
Getting in and out of the bathtub or shower can be difficult for anyone, especially people experiencing an RA flare-up. To prevent falls, use anti-slip strips on the tub and shower floors and install a supportive grab bar on adjacent walls. An adjustable shower head, preferably one that can be handheld, is another home improvement that will make showering easier.
Another is an inexpensive bench that lets you sit under the shower spray instead of standing up and helps you lower yourself into the tub. A more costly project, but one that may be necessary if your rheumatoid arthritis is severe, would be to modify your shower or tub to make it a walk-in.
Is your bathroom functional and comfortable? On a bad day, even getting on and off the toilet can be a challenge for people with rheumatoid arthritis. A raised toilet seat is a simple home improvement that makes it easier to use the toilet when you’re experiencing stiffness and pain, or your mobility is limited.
These seats can raise the toilet by two to six inches, reducing the amount of bending you need to do. You can choose from styles that lock, bolt, or snap in place. Some also have handles to offer support, or you could mount grab bars next to the toilet seat. Heated toilet seats are an appealing option, especially in cold-weather climates.
Ask your doctor for help assessing and modifying home safety. She may write you a prescription for an assessment from a visiting nurse or occupational therapist; both of which may help make it easier for you to identify and address problem areas at home.
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Cut Back on Clutter to Make Moving With RA Easier
Is your home stuffed with stuff? Evaluate each item: If you don't use it, throw it out or give it away. Removing excess is a simple home improvement that will give you easier access to the items you do use. Also, make sure that your frequently used items are stored toward the front and on lower shelves of closets and cabinets.
Another simple home improvement is to install hinges and knobs on doors and cabinets that were specifically designed for ease-of-use by people with arthritis. For example, some people install flat-handled doorknobs instead of the standard round doorknobs. Use hooks and storage bins to improve organization and put items within reach — the less bending you have to do when arthritis flares, the better.
Make Room to Move, Stretch + Strengthen Your Body
Do you have room to move at home? A great way to ease RA-pain is through exercise. Exercise can help relieve RA joint pain and stiffness, but sometimes RA can make it too challenging to leave the house. Don’t skip exercise altogether — figure out how to incorporate gentle exercises into your day. You don’t need an at-home gym, but you may need to reorganize.
- Do you have adequate space in your bedroom for early morning stretching to help ease morning stiffness and swelling? Clear out a space big enough for you to exercise in one part of your home, and put chairs around your exercise space for when you need a rest.
- Carve out a table nook or other spot where you can do at-home hand or foot exercises. Experts know that even basic hand and foot strengthening helps with mobility. Consider this elder health data: Although nearly a third of seniors are susceptible to falls each year, research has shown that home-based exercise programs can reduce the number of seniors' falls.
- A doctor-ordered occupational or physical therapist may be able to prescribe gentle exercises to address your symptoms or concerns. Talk to your doctor. You may be surprised to learn there are resources to help you work with an occupational therapist or physical therapist on a home-based gentle exercise or stretching program.
Strategize Around Staircases to Conserve Your Energy and Counter RA Fatigue
Navigating steps and stairs inside and outside your home can be a challenge when arthritis flares up. The key is to focus not only on preventing falls but also minimizing your use of stairs when symptoms are bad.
Make sure there are handrails on both sides of all steps; they should be of a comfortable thickness so that gripping them isn't painful. An easy home improvement is to place brightly colored tape along the edges of each step to make them more visible. A contractor can make sure your stairs are even and replace any parts that aren't in good condition.
Store Essentials in Multiple Places
Because RA frequently affects joints in the feet and ankles, walking can sometimes be downright painful. Consider adapting some life hacks or creative strategies from others living with rheumatoid arthritis. Some say that storing your most essential items in a few different places around the house can help you avoid unnecessary pain when you're experiencing RA fatigue. For example, keep stocks of toiletries and medications all around your home for easy access.
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Use Lighting to Improve Visibility, Prevent Mishaps, and Move Better With RA
Occasionally, rheumatoid arthritis can cause vision changes. Even if your eyesight isn't a problem, you need to keep your home well lit to ensure safety, enabling you to clearly see where you're going and avoid bumping into furniture or falling.
When your joints are aching, the last thing you want to do is crawl out of your comfortable bed to turn off the lights. Avoid this problem by simply adding more lighting to your home. Consider installing motion-sensitive or clap-activated lighting, which can save you from struggling with tricky lamp switches.
Let the Light In
Other small home improvements can help enhance visibility: Open blinds and curtains to let in natural light, have your windows cleaned periodically, and use brighter lightbulbs, especially in the stairways. Choose lampshades that protect against glare. If your budget allows, consider adding skylights (they may even increase the value of your home).
Keep Grounds Clear to Prevent Rheumatoid Arthritis–Related Injuries
How RA-friendly is your front entrance, driveway, or yard? When you have rheumatoid arthritis, you need to consider home improvements not only within your home but also in your outdoor spaces. Any paths leading to your front door should be even and well lit at all times.
Find a service that will clear ice and snow from walkways as soon after a storm as possible if flares prevent you from doing these chores. If any part of your sidewalk or driveway is cracked or broken, get it repaired by a professional. Contact an Arthritis Foundation office near you, members of an online patient support group such as CreakyJoints, or a local senior center for recommendations of nearby service providers.
- Last Updated: 04/03/17
- Last Updated: 04/03/17