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Rheumatoid arthritis sufferers stroll a New Zealand beach

Information for Caregivers

Caring for Someone with Rheumatoid Arthritis+

When someone we love is unwell it is natural to want to care for them. It is hard to watch our loved ones suffer with the symptoms of RA. Caring for them can bring about many emotions - from sympathy, love, and caring, to anger, resentment and helplessness. It is important to know that all of these emotions are a natural reaction to a stressful situation.

People with RA deal with a lot every day to get by and manage the disease. This often means that you have a lot to deal with too — there may be changes in routine, family roles, or things you do together for enjoyment. Communication and intimacy can become difficult.

It is important to look after yourself as much as you look after your loved one. That way you can provide them with the best possible care.

Here are a few tips:

Arm yourself with information

Supporting someone with RA can feel easier if you both understand the disease. It may help to learn about RA – what happens in the body, symptoms, treatment and coping strategies. The information on this website will help. You can then have a talk with your loved one about what it is like for them to have RA. With their permission, you can also speak to their doctor if you have any questions.

  • Support … don't smother
    Knowing when to help is important. Sometimes, knowing when not to help can be even more important. Have a talk to your loved one about what is helpful and what is not. Being clear about your boundaries can help prevent both of you becoming resentful.
  • See RA with another set of eyes
    Because RA progresses slowly, people with the disease may be unaware of the changes in their disease over time. If you notice some changes it can help to say so. It may help your friend or loved one when they talk about their treatment with their doctor.
  • Take a break
    Some carers worry that if they take a break from caring, it means they don’t care. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is important that you take time out to refuel physically and emotionally. Go for a walk. Get a massage. Go for a drive. Talk to a friend. Do something you enjoy so that you can refuel and care for your loved one well. Don't be afraid to ask for help from friends or family, or from a health professional.

Taking Care of Yourself+

It is common for caregivers to put their loved ones' needs first and forget about their own health. Taking care of yourself is just as important as taking care of someone else.

Here are self-care tips that can help you stay healthy – physically and emotionally:

  • Get enough sleep. Lack of sleep can lead to exhaustion, irritability, illness and stress. Keep a good sleep routine, and do something relaxing before bedtime. Cutting down on caffeine and alcohol can help too - particularly in the four hours before bed. If you are having trouble sleeping through the night, talk to your doctor.
  • Visit your doctor regularly. You may be used to talking to the rheumatologist about your loved one’s health, but remember to visit your own doctor regularly. When you’re in good health, you’re much better able to care for your loved one.
  • Manage stress. Try to identify sources of stress. Work out what you can control and what you can’t. If you can control it, work out a plan to solve the problem. If you can’t, try to manage your stress in other ways. This may be as simple as taking a walk, enjoying a hobby, talking to a good friend or writing in a journal.
  • Exercise. Even a little exercise - such as a light walk - every day can help you get better sleep, reduce stress and depression, and increase your energy.
  • Ask for help. Caregivers may be reluctant to accept help even when others offer. Asking for help when you are feeling tired or overwhelmed — or if you just want some time to yourself — can have a positive effect on your health, well-being and ability to provide care to your loved one.

Emotional Health+

Being a caregiver takes an emotional toll. While trying to care for your loved one, you may be putting your own physical and emotional needs last. There may be times when you are exhausted, worried, stressed or sad. You can also feel low in mood or depressed.

If you are concerned about low mood or depression, talk to your doctor. They may offer a supportive ear, some medication, or they may put you in contact with someone else who can help such as a psychologist.

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