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Tips for Living Alone with RA

For eight years before I met my husband (Richard), I lived alone with my rheumatoid arthritis. I have to admit, it was not the nicest roommate. (Ha ha!) But I learned to live independently and enjoyed having my own little apartment and life.

Learning how to live independently

Since I was diagnosed at age two, it was a goal all while growing up to learn to adapt to my RA, related disabilities, and learn a way to live independently and safely. My time in college was sort of a training because I lived away from home in dorm rooms by myself. But I worked hard all throughout my youth to learn skills and adaptations that would help me succeed in living independently.

We all need help sometimes

Now, let me be clear that living independently (or alone) doesn’t mean doing it all oneself. No one lives that way! Let’s be honest - we all need help. It just means some of us need different help. I first had to learn what kind of help I needed and how to ask for it (or hire it).

Tips for living alone with RA

I believe most people with RA can live independently if they so choose. The first step is to understand one’s particular skills and needs for any help and be willing to explore different adaptations or solutions. While my tips are specific to my own limitations from RA and disabilities, it can be a helpful example for thinking through what you may need.

Consider how to make your home most accessible to you

If you are living alone or searching for a home, think about what would make it most comfortable for you. It’s your life - make it as easy as possible!

For me, this meant a one-level apartment with an elevator. It also meant not much space, so that I didn’t have much to worry about keeping clean! I also needed a home that could fit my wheelchair and where the set up would accommodate my needs to walk short distances (with plenty of resting spots).

Work with an occupational therapist or other experts to learn about or create adaptations

When I was growing up, I tried all kinds of gadgets for helping me to do things, such as reachers, grabbers, jar openings, long-handled tools, and other devices.

But while living alone, I also learned how to do things to make it easier on me, such as cooking one-pot meals that could last for a few days or be frozen for reheating later. I would sit to do my cooking prep and minimize my time standing at the stove. I would also space out tasks with rest in-between to manage my fatigue. Some of these tactics I learned from others, and some I just had to figure out for myself.

Thinking about arranging a trade for or hiring help for certain tasks

I eventually learned to get help with certain tasks that were too exhausting or physically impossible. If I had been more creative at the time, I would have arranged a trade with a friend or neighbor: I’ll help with X if you help with Y. But at the time, it didn’t occur to me!

However, I did go on Craigslist and found someone I could pay to help with laundry. And through a referral, I hired someone to clean my apartment every month. I was good at keeping things neat, but couldn’t physically manage scrubbing and floors and kitchen the way I wanted.

Make independent living work for you

For me, the big lesson is to do what works best for you. It’s your life, so make things easiest and most enjoyable for you. Don’t spend your limited energy on hard or impossible tasks that you don’t enjoy if you can instead ask for some help. Play with adaptive devices and try new approaches to old tasks that may be easier for you.

What tips can you share for living alone with RA? Do you have any secrets to independent living success?

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