What is Arthritis?
Arthritis is an umbrella term for more than 100 conditions or diseases that cause inflammation and pain in the joints. While arthritis affects people of all ages and genders, it is more prevalent in women and occurs more frequently as people get older, however it is not considered a “normal” part of ageing.
There are many different types of arthritis, with many different causes, symptoms and presentations – some can be quite mild while others can be utterly debilitating. It is important to know which form of arthritis you or the person you care for have, so that you know what you’re up against, how to manage it, and what kinds of support are available to you, so you can continue to live as independently as possible.
What are the most common types and causes of arthritis?
Many forms of arthritis are thought to be caused by autoimmune diseases in which the immune system targets the joints, attacking the joint lining and causing an inflammatory response that results in swelling and pain in the joints and can cause joint damage.
The most common forms of this type of arthritis include rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and reactive arthritis. Conversely, there are autoimmune diseases that aren’t considered to be a form of arthritis, but in which arthritis is one of the most common symptoms, such as lupus.
Some forms of arthritis are primarily joint conditions and diseases that cause inflammation in and around the joint and may result in cartilage damage and deterioration of ligaments and tendons. The most common forms of this kind of arthritis include osteoarthritis (OA) and Spondyloarthritis.
There are some conditions and disorders in which arthritis is a common symptom or manifestation, such as ankylosing spondylitis (AS), gout and haemochromatosis (which can cause haemochromatotic arthritis). There are even some viruses that cause arthritic joint pain, such as Ross River virus and Barmah Forest virus.
How to stay on top of your arthritis
There are things you can do to manage your symptoms and help reduce the extent to which they affect your daily life and impact on your independence:
- Work with your doctor and your healthcare team
- Be an active participant in your treatment
- Try to stay as active as possible.
Work with your doctor and your healthcare team
Your healthcare team may consist of a range of health professionals, including:
- Medical practitioners and specialists, such as a rheumatologist (a specialist in the treatment and management of conditions that affect joints and their surrounding structures).
- Allied health professionals, such as a physiotherapist, occupational therapist, dietitian, podiatrist, osteopath, psychologist and pharmacist.
- Practitioners of complementary or alternative medicine, such as acupuncturists and massage therapists.
Be an active participant in your treatment
Learn as much as you can about the type of arthritis (or related condition) you have and the treatment options available to you. There are Australian organisations and government-funded health services that can assist you with this, including Arthritis Australia, Arthritis NSW, and HealthDirect.
Collaborate with your healthcare team to find the best ways for you to manage your arthritis – not every treatment will suit every person, or be effective for every manifestation of arthritis – so it is important to find what will work best for you, now and into the future.
Try to stay as active as possible
Research has shown that regular exercise is one of the most effective treatments for arthritis. It can help to reduce pain and muscle tension, relieve stress and fatigue, increase muscle strength, balance and posture, and improve the mobility and flexibility of joints and supporting structures.
The catch here is that, with many forms of arthritis, as the disorder progresses and causes more damage to the joints and surrounding structures, the pain and stiffness felt in joints typically worsens with activity. Over time, arthritis can cause changes in the shape of the joint and result in wear that causes joints to grate, grind, click and even lose flexibility completely. When this happens, joint pain and stiffness can often be constant, significantly affecting a person’s ability not only to exercise, but to undertake the normal activities of daily living without significant support.
Accessing support to help you live independently with arthritis
As a person’s arthritis worsens, they may find it increasingly difficult to perform even the most basic everyday activities, such as opening jars, turning taps on and off, using utensils, or even walking. There are a number of supports that people with arthritis can access to assist them to live as independently as possible, for as long as possible.
Arthritis aids, devices and appliances
There are a variety of aids, devices and appliances available to make everyday living activities easier for arthritis sufferers, including:
- Braces and splints.
- Walking sticks, frames, and wheeled walkers
- Shoe insoles, long shoehorns, and Velcro shoes
- Grabber tools
- Adjustable bathtub transfer benches
- Electronically adjustable recliners/lounge chairs
- Grips to help turn dials and knobs
- Key turners
- Kettle tippers, electric can openers, cutlery with larger grips
- Buttonhooks/ magnetic fasteners on clothing
- Bras with front fasteners, Velcro or no fasteners
- Clothing zip pull tags
If the arthritis sufferer lives in a two-storey residence and finds stairs difficult to navigate, and there isn’t the option to move to a single storey home, there are small changes or additions that can be made around the home to allow the person to move more freely, including:
- Installing a stairlift or through-floor lift (elevator).
- Installing grab rails.
- Moving power outlets higher up walls, to reduce the need to bend.
- Replacing standard power points and light switches with larger switches or touch-operated switches.
- Door opening mechanisms that don’t require a key or handle to be turned.
In-home and community supports
There are in-home care and support services available from NDIS registered organisations such as ConnectAbility in Newcastle and the Central Coast, to help make life easier for the arthritis sufferer and allow them to retain their independence and remain in their own home for longer. These kinds of supports include:
- Shopping assistance.
- Domestic assistance, for cleaning, washing, washing up, setting and changing bed linen, meal preparation and meal-time support.
- Personal care, including bathing, dressing, and grooming.
- Transport assistance.
Service providers who are registered with the NDIS can offer tailored home care support packages that include one or all of the above supports, according to the person’s needs. Some providers may also be able to assist eligible arthritis sufferers to locate and access specially-modified homes and disability accommodation through Supported Independent Living services.
Is arthritis covered under the NDIS?
In short, Arthritis is sometimes covered under the NDIS scheme. Arthritis of any variety can be physically and socially crippling and it is one of the major causes of disability in Australia. However, to be eligible for assistance under the National Disability Insurance Scheme, a person must have a permanent condition that significantly affects their ability to undertake activities of daily living or participate in everyday activities. The person must also satisfy at least one of the following requirements:
- The person usually requires the support of another person because of that significant and permanent disability.
- The person uses special equipment because of that significant and permanent disability.
- The person needs some supports now, in an effort to reduce their future needs.
Under the NDIS operational guidelines, Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) and Juvenile Arthritis fall into the category of “Conditions Resulting in Physical Impairment”, which are covered in List B. List B outlines permanent conditions for which functional capacity are variable and further assessment of functional capacity is generally required.
This means that, while Rheumatoid Arthritis and Juvenile Arthritis are recognised as permanent conditions, it is the case that not all sufferers are affected to the same degree. While the functional capacity of some sufferers may be significantly impacted, others may not require as much assistance and support to complete daily activities.
Therefore, in order for the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) to decide whether an individual’s condition is severe enough to satisfy the disability requirements the NDIS Act (under Chapter 3, Part 1, Section 24), the individual’s current level of physical impairment may require further assessment.
Following that assessment, the NDIA can then determine whether the individual can access support under the NDIS, the level of support they are eligible to receive, or other supports the individual may be able to access should they not meet the disability requirements of the NDIS Act.
While other forms of arthritis may not be specifically listed in the NDIS operational guidelines, it is possible that an arthritis sufferer may still be eligible for NDIS support. Applications are assessed on a case-by-case basis, in consideration of the condition itself, its severity and the degree to which impacts the person’s life. In effect, what this means is that, while some people with severe osteoarthritis or ankylosing spondylitis may quality for assistance under the NDIS, others may not.
It can help to contact a registered NDIS support service, who can help you to better understand the NDIS, provide you with advice on navigating the NDIS application process, and help you to find and access the disability services and supports you need.
Live more independently with Arthritis through ConnectAbility
ConnectAbility can help sufferers of severe arthritis to live more independently, with access to a range of Disability Support, Supported Independent Living, and Aged Care Support services. ConnectAbility Australia provides all the accommodation and support services that severe arthritis sufferers of all ages need – from helping you to find and access accommodation and Supported Independent Living services that are perfectly matched to your individual needs, wants and independence goals, to providing support that will enable you to remain in your own home for longer, via personalised aged care support.
If you would like more information on how ConnectAbility can help you to live more independently, please call us on 02 4962 1000 (Newcastle) or 02 4349 3700 (Central Coast). Alternatively, you can email us at [email protected] or complete our contact form to have a ConnectAbility representative contact you.