Understanding arthritis is important because it not only affects the person with the disease, but impacts every person in their close circle of family and friends. Arthritis is a chronic condition and its impact is life-long.
People with arthritis often are discouraged and say, "My family doesn't understand", or "My friend doesn't get what it's like for me". Family and friends are not deliberately trying to misunderstand, be difficult, or seem uncompassionate. They truly don't understand. There are certain actions family and friends can take to boost their understanding.
Tips for Family and Friends - Understanding Arthritis
#1 - Be Willing to Learn
Be open to reading a book, an article, or a website about arthritis. To understand the unique problems and challenges a person with arthritis faces on a daily basis, you must learn about the disease. Learn how arthritis brings pain, fatigue, stiffness, swelling, treatments, and side effects into their world.
#2 - Don't Assume You Know
It's human nature to assume, but don't assume you know how a person with arthritis is feeling. The course of arthritis is unpredictable, even on a day-to-day basis. Especially if you have never lived a day with the disease yourself, you don't know how the person with arthritis is feeling. If a person is not crying or visibly in pain, it does not mean they are not suffering silently.
#3 - Be a Good Listener
You can absorb most of what you need to understand about arthritis by listening. If a person with arthritis views a family member or friend as a confidant, they will share their emotions about living with arthritis. Listen for what the person needs from you. The clues for what a person with arthritis may need from you are embedded in their conversation.
#4 - Be Adaptable
Arthritis demands adaptability from the person living with the disease and their family and friends. If you are rigid in your expectations and if you allow no flexibility, you are casting aside the needs of the person with arthritis. If you were to graph the good days and bad days of the person living with arthritis, it would not be a straight line. Be willing to ride those bumps too.
#5 - Go to Doctor Appointments
As a family member or close friend of the person who has arthritis, ask if you can accompany them to their doctor appointment. This is a way of demonstrating your support and also gives you the opportunity to raise questions and to hear the response directly from the doctor. It is yet another good way to learn and support at the same time.
#6 - Attend Support Groups, Chats, Forums
Participate in arthritis support groups, chats, or forums. There is no better place to gain understanding than from a group of people who live with arthritis. The interaction with a larger group offers you a broader scope of understanding, especially since not all people with arthritis have identical symptoms, undergo the same treatments, or cope the same way. We can learn from each other and from shared experiences.
#7 - Offer Unconditional Love and Friendship
Offer the same unconditional love and friendship you would if the person did not have arthritis. Do not allow the difficulties and complications caused by arthritis to negatively impact your relationship. The person living with arthritis may have new limitations and different needs, but relationships and friendships must remain constant.
#8 - Discuss What Most Frustrates the Person With Arthritis
Arthritis causes frustration. There is a physical, emotional, social, and financial impact associated with arthritis. Do you know what is most frustrating to the person who has arthritis? Get them to open up about their frustrations. You can then find solutions and problem solve together.
#9 - Discuss Why the Person With Arthritis Thinks You Lack Understanding
If you've ever heard "you don't understand what it's like" from the person living with arthritis, have a frank conversation about where they feel you miss the mark. Work to create understanding where there has been misunderstanding.
#10 - Steer Away From Being Overprotective
Strike a balance between being supportive and overprotective. Though people with arthritis have limitations imposed by the disease, they still "can do" a lot. Don't shrink their world by being overprotective.
#11 - Communicate How Their Arthritis Affects You
Discuss the impact their disease has on you. There is a very real impact on you if you are close to that person and it should not be disregarded. They need to listen to you as much as you need to listen to them. Communication is a two-way street.
#12 - Don't Impose Your Thoughts
Make suggestions, but don't impose your thoughts on how a person with arthritis should manage their disease. The most compassionate gesture is for you to follow their lead on what will enhance their quality of life despite living with a chronic disease.