Arthritis is mostly just a pain at first, but eventually it starts to change the way the actual joint functions. In most patients with arthritis, the hands are one of the primary problem areas. As the disease progresses, often the ability to hold and manipulate various objects gets increasingly more difficult.
To some extent, lifestyle interventions to reduce inflammation can slow and in some cases reverse the disease process. But for most who have progressed to having difficulties with their hands it will not likely take away the degeneration that has already occured. In these cases, I recommend specific tools to help minimize the effort for everyday activities that can become so frustratingly hard.
I will note, however, that these tools are not magic. Some of them still have a bit of a learning curve to them. But in most cases with just a bit of practice you can improve your level of independence quickly with each of these.
This is a super versatile tool and honestly I recommend people with arthritis have one shorter one and another longer one available to select for different tasks. But I will warn you, I have seen people buy adjustable ones or foldable ones… they almost always are a waste of money.
In most cases these are just not designed to pick up a lot of weight. But it’s great for lightweight items like retrieving that sock that just fell on the floor. It can also be useful for people who cannot start their own pants on their feet. Simply place the waistband of the pants into the reacher and use it to lower down and start your feet at the top like you typically would. This is especially helpful for after a back or hip surgery. However if you are capable of reaching with your own hands safely, even if it’s hard, I strongly encourage you to do that!
Bonus Tip: If you happen to use a walker or cane, it’s a great idea to get some velcro and plop it on so you can keep it nearby!
I have seen some people with very advanced degeneration of their hands who cannot manage the grip strength and movement required to use the reacher effectively. In these cases I find a dressing stick (which is basically a dowel rod with hooks on the end) can be helpful. But if you (or your loved one) is capable of using a reacher, you will likely find that more versatile!
Can I just be honest and say that carrying 2 or more plastic bags are hard on your hands even if you don’t have arthritis? That’s why I personally use a bag handle myself without any arthritis or grip strength problems. With two toddlers underfoot, I just don’t want to spend a lot of time bringing the groceries in and this helps me get more in less trips. I will say however that if you are starting to have problems with your grip strength, you will need to be careful of not overloading this with too much weight.
Button Hook and Zipper Pull
Fasteners are one of the hardest things to master as a kid because they require so much hand dexterity. And for that same reason it’s one of the first hurdles someone with arthritis will face. It’s easy to say you just will avoid these tasks but it’s hard to find a pair of adult pants that doesn’t have a button and zipper on it. Certainly I have seen my fair share of female patients who only wear pullover dresses and slip on shoes to avoid this problem. And that is fine. But just know that you have an option for help here! This tool has one side (with the larger metal loop) that is designed to help you button and another side (with the smaller hook) that can help you pull a zipper.
Because it’s hard to describe exactly how this one works in words alone, here’s a brief YouTube video showing you the button hook.
When it comes to maintaining your independence, driving can be crucial. If you are starting to have problems because of pain, simple things like getting your seat belt can be tricky! This handy gadget can be attached to your seat belt and has a hook that makes it easier to grab and pull down. It’s not a tool I recommend often, but it can be incredibly helpful for those who do need it!
Have you tried putting a key in a lock and found yourself fumbling to get it in and have the strength to turn it? This little gem might help. It attaches to your keys (making it easier to find in your purse or pocket anyways!) and gives you a bigger handle to use. So much easier for people with poor grip strength!
Consider your Utensils
If you have started having problems feeding yourself because regular utensils are just hard to hold or manipulate, you can consider a number of options. You can purchase utensils with built up handles – just make sure they are the non-weighted kind. If you prefer to keep your own utensils but need a larger handle you can get some cylindrical foam. Or, you could consider a universal cuff. This option could be great for restaurant use when you want something to help you manage your utensils without having to tote along your built up handled ones or some cylindrical foam from home. And I think it’s a little less obvious. Plus it can fit in your purse or pocket easily, making it the more portable option.
An automatic can opener of course can be the easiest, but that doesn’t work for jars and lots of other containers that need to be opened. This 2 pack of jar openers gives you options to find just the right tool for most types of cans and jars you want to open.
What do you think of these tools? Did I mention one you already use? Is there one you think might help you? Do you know of any tools I should add? Let me know in the comments below!
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