For many people, including carers, the word ‘arthritis’ is associated with the wear and tear on the joints commonplace amongst older people. However, many fail to realise that rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an entirely different condition with a different set of causes and treatments.
RA is actually an auto-immune condition caused by a problem with the immune system which causes it to attack the body rather than defend against infection. This response causes damage to the lining of the joints which in turn causes inflammation, pain and stiffness. Unlike osteoarthritis, the condition can even effect other organs such as the heart and lungs and if untreated, it can lead to irreversible damage and severe disability.
RA affects more than 400,000 people in the UK, many of whom will need professional care and support so it’s important that your staff have a good understanding of the condition. In order to raise awareness, the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society (NRAS) organises Rheumatoid Arthritis Awareness Week (RAAW) each year in June and this provides the perfect opportunity to help your team find out more.
Read on to learn more about RAAW 2019 and how you can help to improve your team’s knowledge of this debilitating condition.
The 6th year of RAAW 2019 will take place from 17-23 June and the theme this year is #AnyoneAnyAge. The campaign aims to increase awareness of the fact that RA is an autoimmune condition so can strike at any age, not just in later life. However, most of the people with RA you encounter in your daily work will inevitably be older and usually have had the condition for many years. Understanding how the condition affects them and the support you can provide to manage their symptoms can make a huge difference to their quality of life.
Follow Our 4 Steps to Caring for Service Users with Rheumatoid Arthritis
- Be Prepared for Flare Ups: Unlike other forms of arthritis, RA doesn’t simply worsen at a steady, predictable rate. Individuals with RA can often experience periods of relative stability which are interrupted by sudden ‘flare ups’ where symptoms become much worse. Your staff need to be aware that this is a normal part of RA and be prepared for a person’s condition to change suddenly, leading to a need for increased support and symptom management.
- Promote Activity: As RA isn’t caused by normal wear and tear on the joints, exercise can actually help by preventing muscle loss and improving joint flexibility. Encourage regular exercise appropriate to the person’s abilities and don’t forget to consider yoga or Tai Chi as useful alternatives to walking.
- Check for Foot Problems: RA can cause foot deformities that can lead to calluses, corns, nail problems and general foot pain. Check for foot problems as part of everyday care and make sure your service user is seen by a podiatrist on a regular basis so that problems can be treated.
- Manage Medication Effectively: Medication used for RA can include a wide range of powerful anti-inflammatory drugs including steroids which can have significant side-effects. Ensure that any regime prescribed for the person is followed precisely to avoid the risk of complications and always report any adverse effects to the person’s GP.
- Consider Alternatives: There is evidence that some complementary medicines can be helpful in the treatment of symptoms, particularly fish oil and evening primrose oil. If your service user expresses an interest in these treatments, arrange to discuss with the GP if they can be taken in conjunction with their existing medication regime.