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For Arthritis Patients, Good Support Can Be Hard to Find

Some patients receive more support from coworkers than from spouses

by Sue Pondrom

Women and men with some form of arthritis or joint pain believe they receive a different level of support and awareness from each other, according to a survey conducted in April 2011 and published in May, during Arthritis Awareness Month.

The survey of 1,350 individuals found that in households where only one spouse has a form of arthritis, 78.3% of women feel they receive little or no support. Conversely, 65.6% of men said they are satisfied with the support they receive. Individuals responding to the survey included those with osteoarthritis, psoriatic arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, gout, and lupus or other joint-related pain, illness, or disability.

“There can be a great divide in the way men and women communicate, which includes listening,” says Tamer Elsafy, CEO and founder of Flexcin International, Inc., a joint supplement manufacturer that conducted the survey. “Many times, just listening can lead to the ability to create an environment that offers more support and awareness.”

Interestingly, more than half of respondents still working said they feel coworkers offer a higher level of support and overall awareness than family members do.

These findings were surprising to Gail C. Davis, RN, EdD, professor emerita at Texas Woman’s University in Denton, and a member of The Rheumatologist’s editorial board. “This may be due to lack of education and understanding of both the patient and the spouse. Lack of assertiveness in asking for help from the spouse may also be a factor,” she says. “It’s important to remember that the spouse walks a fine line in knowing how much help to offer. He or she can be over solicitous. In the end, it is the patient’s perception of the support received from the spouse and coworkers that is important.” Dr. Davis is not affiliated with Flexcin.

The survey also found that:

  • 67.4% of respondents said other members of the household are sometimes or never aware of their arthritis.
  • 64.4% of respondents said others in the household never or only occasionally take an interest in their daily issues with arthritis. This can take the form of asking questions to learn more or be more aware, reading about what it’s like to have arthritis, or generally making a person’s life easier.
  • The majority of respondents (58.4%) said they feel the most pain from arthritis when cleaning and doing household chores.

Dr. Davis did note some possible limitations to the survey, such as its lack of control participants. Additionally, although it is a large sample, “it would be helpful to know more about the participants, such as number of women and men, number of children in the home, number (percentage) of those working outside the home, the type of work, level of pain, and level of disability.”

Dr. Davis says that the important lesson from this study “is the need for education of both the person with arthritis and the spouse or significant other. It’s important for patients to learn the value of pacing or not overdoing it, and of prioritizing. They may not be able to do everything they would like to do or all that they feel needs to be done, physically and socially. It’s important that they and the spouse understand this.”

She notes that, “because all patients are not likely to see a rheumatologist, rheumatologists may need to offer education to other healthcare professionals, as well as to the patient and spouse. Consideration might be given to placing information on computer websites that are frequently visited by the public interested in arthritis.”



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