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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.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • Carla Kienast
    4 years ago

    Hi Kelly: Love this and I agree that problem-solving and invention are key “assistive devices.” Others that I’ve incorporated into my life (as I was able) include a refrigerator with the freezer on the bottom (so I don’t have to bend down to get things out of the fridge), washer dryers on pedestals so everything is at least waist level, and my new car that’s easier to get in and out of. As you said, you need to make your every-day life easier.

  • Kelly Mack moderator author
    3 years ago

    Carla, love these ideas for making things easier. Thanks! Best, Kelly

  • jan curtice
    4 years ago

    Good Morning, Kelly! I enjoy your articles and look forward to them. Your realistic attitude of embracing and overcoming RA provides me hope and encouragement … Thanks! I’ve also reached the stage where I can no longer manage without some assistive devices. Here are some of my favorites you didn’t mention. First, I put as much furniture on 1/2″ – 1″ wheels as possible. This makes it possible for me to move it more easily (especially for cleaning), including moving it out-of-the-way in the event of a potential fall. My coffee table gets moved around alot. Talking about the living room, I placed short (length) bed rails on both ends of the sofa to help me stand/sit down. Talking about rails, I have one across from the toliet, not just next to it. This allows me to pull myself up rather than bearing down and pushing myself up (OUCH!). Much easier on the joints. I am one of those who exchanged my utensils for ones with a rounded handle. These are easier to hold. I also cut my food up with scissors (Fiskars) rather than a knife. Now this isn’t typically considered an assistive device but it does make me feel a whole lot better. I keep a bottle of Biotene in the bathroom. Every time I visit the little room, I swish with the Biotene. This has helped tremendously with my dry mouth. Finally, I bought a shopping bag on wheels. When I check out, the grocery bags go into the wheeled bag. Mine holds 6-7 plastic bags or 4-5 recycled bags. This makes it very easy to carry the groceries into my home and unload them. Assistive devices provide successful coping beyond the limitations. I am thankful for the tools I have that help me be a physically stronger and more independent person. =^^=

  • Kelly Mack moderator author
    3 years ago

    Hi Jan, love all the great ideas! Thanks so much for sharing! Best, Kelly

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