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Managing Household Chores With RA
Rheumatoid arthritis pain can keep patients from managing their household, and that can lead to frustration. Patients can have a clean house with this disease, but they need to follow some strategies.
By Christine Bahls
Medically Reviewed by Pat F. Bass III, MD, MPH
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When Craig Crowley did his own laundry, the rheumatoid arthritis pain in his hands was so intense that he could only drag one pair of jeans from the washer to the dryer at a time. Washing clothes, he says, seemed to take forever.
“Doing laundry is hard,” says Crowley, who is in his 50s and lives in Evansville, Ind. “[I’d] drag the laundry basket down the steps.” Diagnosed with this chronic autoimmune disease in the 1960s, Crowley now has a housekeeper.
Patrice Torres, of Seattle, who was diagnosed in 2006, counts on her husband and three children for help when her rheumatoid arthritis pain keeps her from vacuuming, mopping, and doing other household chores. “When I am not bent on getting the house clean, I let the kids do it,” says Torres, who is in her 30s with a self-described type-A personality. “You have to enlist the help of the family — this disease tests everyone.”
RA and a Clean House
Rheumatoid arthritis tests the emotions, too. It bothers Torres “to no end” that she can’t keep her house clean like she once did. She says she is angry and resentful, and that fuels the pain, which fuels the inflammation.
“This is the control thing,” she says. “I want things my way. When I can’t do what I want to do, it brings on the depression too. The body can’t mop. Sometimes you can’t do the simplest thing, like grab the door.”
Christopher R. Morris, MD, a rheumatologist in private practice in Kingsport, Tenn., is familiar with this type of frustration. His patients "can’t do things they used to do. It takes a lot longer. I have patients who can’t close their hands, let alone grasp a mop.”
Seeking Help for RA
Patience White, MD, vice president of public health for the Arthritis Foundation, says Crowley and Torres are doing exactly what they should be doing: finding help to keep the household chores manageable. If you can’t find or afford a housekeeper, turn to family and friends as Crowley did.
Dr. White says everyone needs to practice the two “P”s — pacing and prioritizing — but patients who are on their own especially need to keep their housecleaning enthusiasm in check. “You will pay for it later if you overdo,” she says.
Torres agrees. “There are times when I want it perfect, and then I pay the price,” she says. Her biggest enemy is mopping. “It’s something about the action, the repetitive movement back and forth. When I am in [cleaning] mode, I ignore all the signs, the pops, [that say] you better stop, or you are going to pay.”
Be careful when you are feeling good, because that’s when patients overdue it. “By pacing yourself, you are doing things at a pace that won’t aggravate the system,” says Morris. As an example, he says if you have to mow the lawn and know it’s going to hurt, then mow it in several outings, not one. Listen to your body, he says.
White says to ask the question: How can I do these things without putting pressure on my joints? “Clearly, you won’t be lifting heavy things,” she says. Patients may have to change the level of cleanliness they are accustomed to living with — the kitchen floor may have to stay sticky for a little while longer.
Cleaning Tips for RA
Morris, Torres, and White all encourage patients to choose their cleaning and kitchen equipment carefully. Torres has a light vacuum cleaner and a special mop. Morris says patients should look for mops and other tools that have cushioned handles so they are easier to grip. “Look at the stuff you use,” Morris says. White advocates getting a Dustbuster. “You want light appliances,” she says.
White suggests, as Morris did with mowing the lawn, to split up tasks; clean one floor on one day, another floor another day.
The Arthritis Foundation has a program called Ease of Use. Under this joint program with Georgia Tech, manufacturers come to the foundation to have their product tested to see if it is easy for those with arthritis problems to use. Georgia Tech then tests the product. These products, like an Oreck vacuum, are sold retail. You can find out more about this program and read the list of products that have earned the Ease of Use Commendation by visiting their .
While cleanliness is a good thing, a little procrastination is okay for someone with rheumatoid arthritis, Morris says.
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