Top Tools: Assistive Devices to Help Manage Daily Life with Arthritis

“I get by with a little help from my friends,” is a classic song lyric worth humming—and why not add in your own line about a little help from assistive devices too? When you’re living with arthritis, there are a number of simple tools that can help you go about your daily life with less pain and frustration. “Assistive devices can help decrease the stress on a joint, making an activity easier, safer, less tiring and way less frustrating,” says Ilene Cohen-Ackerman, an Arthritis Society occupational therapist and clinical practice lead. She adds that using the right device can help you keep your independence and, in many cases, keep doing activities that you love.

Opening doors, drawers and gas tanks

If you have arthritis in your hands or wrists, first consider changing your home’s door knobs to lever styles, which don’t require as much force to turn so are easier on your joints. (Lever handles are good for taps too.) However, if you don’t want to change the door knobs, buy non-slip rubber door knob covers that stretch over the door knob and give you more grip, says Cohen-Ackerman. A big, wide rubber band, or short piece of a rubber exercise band can also do the trick, and it’s easy to keep in your wallet or pocket. 

Getting dressed

“You could spend 20 minutes doing up buttons in the morning if you don’t have the dexterity in your fingers any more, or you could use a device like a button hook, which makes it easier and quicker,” says Cohen-Ackerman. “You’re not using up all your energy.” A key ring on a zipper tab (such as a jacket zipper) allows you to hook a finger through and pull, rather than a more difficult pincer grip between your thumb and finger.

Having a bath

Make your shower or bath a safer place to be by having grab bars installed in the tub or shower, so you have something sturdy to hold on to when you’re getting in and out. Bath seats are also a good idea if you have arthritis in your lower extremities and don’t feel secure standing.

Cooking, baking and gardening

Choose kitchen utensils and garden tools that have enlarged handles, which put less strain on your joints. You can also buy knives with angled handles that make it easier to grip. A tool called a jar key is handy—it breaks the vacuum seal on jar lids, so you don’t need as much force to open them. Slip a small rubber mat under a bowl or casserole dish so you can keep it in place without having to hold onto it. Garden tools with longer handles minimize reaching and bending. You can also try using flexible foam tubing (used for pipe insulation and available in different sizes at hardware stores) as a way to cushion and enlarge tool handles.

Writing, reading, playing cards and driving

An enlarged non-slip pen grip that slips over your regular pen eases the strain on your finger joints because they don’t have to bend as much. “If you’re an avid card player, a card holder is your best friend,” says Cohen-Ackerman, adding that a book holder is excellent for readers too. “It’s the static holding, or holding something still for a long time, that is so hard on hands.” A key extender makes your key longer, essentially turning it into a lever that you can more easily grip and turn with your whole hand, rather than a more difficult pincer grip.

Walking and standing

If you have arthritis in your hips, knees, ankles or feet, it’s important to do proper muscle strengthening so that your muscles can hold the joint properly, says Cohen-Ackerman. However, stretchy compression sleeves or rigid braces can be a good complement to help support a sore joint. If you’re using a cane, make sure you’re using it properly. “You use a cane on the ‘good’ side of your body, so when you take a step with your bad leg, the cane takes some of the weight off the affected joint,” she says. Pay attention to cane height too: “When you’re standing up straight, the top of the handle should be at wrist height. When you hold the handle, your elbow is bent at about 30 degrees.”

“There are so many devices available now and they’re becoming really mainstream, not clinical-looking,” says Cohen-Ackerman. Talk to an occupational therapist about the kind of assistive devices that would be helpful for your kind of arthritis.

For more tips and tricks, visit the Arthritis Society’s Daily Living online module.

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