I’m amazed when I stop and think about how many “assistive devices” I now have in my life. I’m not talking about canes, crutches, or walkers (although I own all of those and have used then on occasion after joint surgery). I’m talking about everyday items that I have purposely bought to make my life (with RA) easier.
I first talked about assistive devices a few years ago when the now-ubiquitous Kindle readers were introduced. I was thrilled because I no longer had to wear my hated reading glasses to enjoy my favorite books. Instead, I was a cool, trendy, tech-friendly person with the latest gadget. The Kindle allows me to adjust the size of the type to a comfortable reading level and lets me pretend my eyes are a lot younger than they are.
Probably my first (and still most-important) assistive device is the ergonomic chair in my office. It provides adjustments for the seat, back angle, tension, arm rests and multiple other things to support good posture and proper working position. I can’t sit for long at the computer without it or my keyboard wrist support.
My next important assistive device was my new refrigerator with the freezer on the bottom. This raises the refrigerated food portion up to eye level. I no longer have to bend over to load groceries or to see what’s in the fridge (a great boon to my back where I have had two spinal fusion surgeries). The freezer portion rolls out in a drawer, which makes it also easy to access.
The fridge was quickly followed by new front-load washer and dryer on stands. While the stands act as storage drawers for laundry supplies, they also raise the washer and dryer to a height that makes them easy to load and unload. No more straining or pulling heavy, wet mounds of clothes. This helps not only my back, but my hands and shoulders.
The latest assistive device is my new car. When my husband’s auto lease came up earlier this year, I convinced him he should take over my low-slung car which was becoming increasingly difficult (and physically painful) for me to get in and out of. I bought a new Nissan Juke. While it really is a cute car with lots of features, the main reason I picked it is that the seats are at a level that I can just slide into – I no longer have to physically climb in and out of the car. In addition, the floor of the hatch back is a height just below waist level. This makes it easy to transfer groceries or other items into the car and to unload them. I’m no longer lifting heavy packages – more sliding them in and out.
These items are not what you first imagine when you hear the words “assistive devices” and yes, I do have “real” assistive devices. When I had hip replacement surgery a few years ago, my husband installed hand rails next to our toilets to help me get up and down. These have come in handy not only for my subsequent knee surgeries, but on those days when I’m in a flare and need all the help I can get.
But the point is, with RA you need to think about ways that make your life easier on your joints. This includes not only health-related things like medication, diet and exercise. This should also encompass everything in your daily life – things like appliances and vehicles. As you go about your routine, stop and think about those things that bother you (or worse, actually hurt). Then think about what can make them better. Perhaps it’s as simple as hand-friendly cooking utensils or a rolling laundry basket. Life is tough. It’s tougher if you have RA. It’s our job to figure out how to make it easier.