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Blog: Organizing For Special Needs
Living Well with Arthritis

Arthritis may commonly be thought of the "wear and tear" of growing older. You may not know that the diagnosis of arthritis can include osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and other arthritis like conditions such as gout, lupus, and fibromyalgia.

The Center for Disease Control reports that 46 million adults in the U.S. have been diagnosed with some form of arthritis. This is equal to 1 in 5 adults, with 50% of those over age 65 affected, and by the year 2030 over 67 million people will be diagnosed with this painful condition.

What are the most common types?

Osteoarthritis This is the most common arthritis, also called degenerative joint disease, reported to affect 21 million of us. Osteoarthritis is the result of wearing of the cartilage that protects and cushions the joints in our bodies. This lack of cushioning may lead to inflammation and pain. It can affect any joints, but most commonly the hands, feet, spine, and large weight bearing joints, such as hips and knees. Osteoarthritis pain gets worse as the day goes on, and generally progresses as one ages.
Rheumatoid Arthritis This arthritis is reported to affect 2.1 million of us. It is caused by a chronic, inflammatory autoimmune disorder where the persons own immune system over-reacts and attacks the joints. It is not known what causes the body to develop this condition. It affects many joints, and the pain is accompanied by inflammation, and soft tissue swelling. People may suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome in their wrists due to the inflammation. Rheumatoid Arthritis pain tends to be worse in the morning, and then improves as the day goes on.

Whichever form you may be affected by, it is to your benefit to educate yourself.
I have heard the Internet called "the University of Google." Take a look. You can find true medical information, natural remedies with variable results, and personal experiences by others who have gone through what you may be going through. Wikipedia is an online dictionary with almost anything you can think of listed. Educating yourself will help you understand what questions you should be asking your doctor.

See a doctor! By seeking out early treatment and professional advise, you can slow down and improve the course of your disease. Your doctor may recommend medications, natural pain remedies like heat/cold packs, and activities to prevent loss of function. Studies have shown that activity 3x week can reduce disability by nearly 50%, and even a slight weight loss can decrease pain in the knees significantly.

What can you do to make your life easier?
Now is an ideal time to simplify your home. When you live with pain, eliminating unnecessary steps from your day leaves you more time to enjoy your chosen activities. You might want to involve a friend, family member, or professional organizer to help you.

You will want to avoid heavy lifting, especially with one hand. Put the items you use the most within arms reach. Try not to stack items such as bowls, which you need to use often. Eliminate bending by putting what you need at waist level, light items up high, and heavier items down low.

1) Replace heavy pots or dishes with lighter varieties. Teflon pans require less scrubbing. You might consider leaving your most commonly used items on the countertop or stove. If you use a kettle to heat water when alone, consider heating your individual cup in the microwave.
2) Use utensils with thick handles, or add foam around the handles to require less grip strength.
3) Use equipment to make your life easier. The Chop Wizard allows you to place an onion or tomato over a grated blade, push down the lid, and have the whole thing cut at once. My mom swears by it, and bought me one too.
4) Have scissors readily available to open packages, don't use your hands to rip.
5) Slide heavy items like canisters or pots rather than lifting.
6) Keep a small bowl on the countertop for waste while cooking, empty in main trash when done.
7) Sit with your forearms resting on the table while working, if standing causes you discomfort.
8) There are now washable rubber and gel floor mats to cushion your joints while standing. It could be a great splurge on yourself.
You may be so used to doing something a certain way, that you don't even consider that it could be done differently. Taking the time to look at your kitchen in a critical way will allow you to organize things to improve your life.

Don't be afraid to make your life easier. Saving your energy for what you love is always satisfying.

1) Consider a bath seat if standing is difficult in the shower. Sitting may make shaving easier, both for the face and the legs. You can use a suction cup mirror, or try lifting your leg up rather than bending all the way over.
2) Use a rubber mat to increase ease in standing, or cushion yourself if in the bath.
3) Curtains are easier to manage than glass doors. Lighter, less cleaning, easier to get in and out.
4) Using a lightweight travel hair dryer can be much easier on your hands.
5) You might enjoy a lightweight electric toothbrush with a wide handle. This will be easier on your hands, and less work. Prices vary, but almost all can be an improvement from the tiny handle.
6) Consider a raised toilet seat, if standing up from a low surface is difficult. They are available with and without arm support.

When you can choose clothes that are easy to put on and comfortable to wear.

1) Make fastening easy. Velcro is a wonderful invention for shoes and clothes. You may also find attractive zipper pulls helpful.
2) If you are stiff and sore in the morning, consider putting your clothes out the night before. This eliminates the need to do a lot with your hands first thing in the morning.
3) Sit down to dress, and lift your leg up to don your pants. This will help you stay flexible, and eliminate the need to balance, and stand on one leg.
4) If you wear a tie keep it loosely fastened and just lift it over your head. You won't need to re-knot it each time.
5) Shoes with rubber soles may provide cushioning throughout the day.

Be kind to yourself, if lifting a large load is hard for you; give yourself permission to wash smaller loads.

1) Sit down to fold clothes. You might sort as you fold, and put away later- one small bunch at a time.
2) Try not to lift heavy baskets; you can always push them across the floor with your feet.
3) Buy smaller, more concentrated laundry detergent. The big bottles are very heavy.

Eliminate unnecessary steps. Simplify and eliminate clutter. Save your hands. Can someone help?

1) If you have a large home, keep cleaning supplies in more than one area.
2) Use a long handled sponge for reaching into the tub, and up high on the shower walls. You can also use a fresh toilet brush for these areas.
3) Use equipment. My mom swears by the Black and Decker Scum Buster. It has a nice large handle, is lightweight, and has several scrubbing heads and a cleaner reservoir. I might get one myself.

Be Safe! If you have trouble turning your head, don't hesitate to get an extended rear view mirror installed. These provide superior rear view vision. Ask your mechanic.

1) Attach a sheepskin steering wheel cover. This makes gripping the wheel much easier, and protects the hands from extremes of temperature.
2) Use key grips to increase the size of the key. Ask at the local hardware store or locksmith.
3) Use equipment. There is a "gas cap wrench" available to open your gas cap with ease. It has a large, easy grip handle, and can be kept in your glove box.

It is important to stay in touch with our loved ones. They want to hear from you, and it is always worth the effort.

1) Large handled pens are now readily available, and easier to grip.
2) It may be easier to use email than printing
3) Use a larger phone, if you have a cell phone, get a "Bluetooth" hands free, wireless earpiece.
This will completely eliminate the extended gripping that can cause pain.

There is a lot of information available to you. Know that there are no "pat" answers. Everyone is unique, and you must find what works for you. People will always have ideas; you can graciously thank them for caring...then take what you need, and leave the rest.

Lisa Alishio, COTA/L
Professional Organizer
Clarity Home Consulting

Live Well in Your Home™

posted on: 10/24/2007 12:30:00 PM by Lisa Alishio
category: Special Populations

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Organizing For Special Needs

by Lisa Alishio

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About Lisa:

Lisa Alishio, COTA/L, is a professional organizer with a background in pediatric and adult occupational therapy. Her intention is to help people of all ages and abilities to "Live Well in their Home".

Lisa's Website:


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