Less Need for Assistive Devices

Hopeful news from a study reports that modern treatments work to minimize the need for assistive devices (like jar openers, long-handled reachers, raised toilet seats, canes, walkers, wheelchairs, and others) for RA patients. (See “Assistive Device Use Down Among RA Patients” from Medpage Today.)

Comparing two time periods (early era of biologics to about 10 years later), the study also found reduced disease activity and impairment in RA patients. There was about a 10% decrease in the overall need for assistive devices among RA patients. Researchers estimate about 30% of current patients use assistive devices, however there was no difference in use of special utensils, wheelchairs, or walkers (ranging about 2-3% of patients for each).

To me this research is exciting because it shows biologics have a positive impact on reducing joint damage and hopefully supporting quality of life for people with RA. Logically, it makes sense that people experiencing more disease activity and length reported greater device usage.

I have had the disease for more than 35 years, with severe damage resulting from my RA activity. I use a lot of these devices and they are a tremendous help with accomplishing daily activities and getting around. Many of them I keep at home, like my shower bench, but others are in a drawer at the office or ride with me on my wheelchair.

My hope with my current treatment regimen, that includes a biologic, is to prevent further damage. I would love to use fewer devices, but at this point I do not think that’s in the cards because of the extent of my disease and disability.

I encourage others with RA to use tools and devices as needed. If you need help, don’t wait. It can be difficult to ask for the help you need, but in every case I personally wished I had asked sooner! For example, when I got my first motorized wheelchair and it was so much easier for me to get around I thought “why didn’t I do this earlier!”

As I collected devices, it was through appointments with physical and occupational therapists. Partly, I had been noting challenges and difficulties. Would a device help in solving these problems? But they also asked good questions and helped me think through the day. Where did I struggle in my self-care? What situations could I change or avoid? What tools would help?

Perhaps my favorite part was inventing assistive devices, such as the long-armed shoehorn or the hair-washer (flexible arm with sponge attached on the end). They were tailored to my needs and helped to get the jobs done.

To me the ingenuity of problem-solving and invention has been crucial for coping with my RA. Where there’s a challenge, there’s a creative solution. I think my tenacity and persistence are related to this philosophy. Even with the limitations caused by my illness, I will not give up or be stopped from accomplishing my goals, whether it’s activities of daily living or traveling to work.

I hope that biologics and future treatments continue to reduce the need for assistive devices. But I also know that some of us will need them for a while, and that’s quite OK. We’ll use ingenuity for the purposes of making our lives easier.

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