Rheumatoid arthritis is a condition that is physically and emotionally debilitating. The medications used to treat this condition often have very serious side effects.
Because of this, caring for a patient with RA is difficult. You must provide support, learn about the disease’s process, help with treatment regimens, and identify the effectiveness of treatment processes. You should help the patient to understand both pharmaceutical and holistic methods of treating their condition.
Since this is a chronic illness, they need to see the doctor on a regular basis. As a caregiver, you may be responsible for transporting them to and from these visits. Due to a reduce mental capacity in later cases of RA, you may also need to communicate with the doctor too.
Why Is RA So Detrimental?
Rheumatoid arthritis damages a patient’s joints, which affects their ability to function. Even with the right treatment, it is only a short period of time before the patient’s joints will twist and deform. As the joints begin to distort, they will lose the use of those joints and be in constant and severe pain. Doing daily activities becomes complicated for them. Within six years of the initial diagnosis, more than 25 percent of patients are no longer able to work. Within a 21-year span, more than 50 percent are completely disabled and unable to work or take care of themselves. When considering the loss of employment and medical costs, it is estimated that the average RA patient loses up to $8,500 each year.
The quality of life is another concern that RA patients must deal with. More than 50 percent of these patients will have sleep disturbances. These disturbances can be a lack of sleep or they are sleeping too much. No matter how much they sleep, they are likely to have daily fatigue. Also, stiffness and severe pain acerbate sleep issues. This chronic life-altering disease is unbearable at times.
One must also consider the side-effects from the medications used to treat this disease. Many search for holistic approaches to avoid the serious complications caused from the drugs preferred for treatment.
Caring for someone who is chronically ill is a big task. There are some days when your own mental health can be affected. Remember, they have a disease and cannot help their pain or intolerance.
Cardiovascular Disease and Rheumatoid Arthritis
One of the major issues with RA is the advanced risk for cardiovascular disease. In fact, women have a two out of three chance of having a heart attack when they have RA. A heart attack can happen even when there are no traditional risk factors. Some believe that the link between the heart and RA is undeniable. An ironic “backwards” effect of the body’s body mass index on survival in RA patients is well defined. A low BMI is linked with a threefold amplified risk of CV death. This is a dissimilarity to the overall population as a lower BMI is beneficial in lowering the cardiovascular risk.
Fascinatingly, similar contradictory associations of adverse CV outcomes with lower cholesterol levels were reported too. Lower cholesterol levels are always seen as a hallmark for good health. However, for the RA patient, a low level can be dangerous to the heart. No one is exactly sure why or how this happens. However, as a caregiver, it is important to make sure the BMI and cholesterol levels are monitored continuously. Since RA affects the heart, it is imperative to help identify and correct any issues.
As with any other autoimmune condition, there can be serious complications. RA puts a patient at a higher risk of developing other conditions. Since it is an autoimmune-based condition, a caregiver must watch for other signs and symptoms of trouble. When the immune system is weakened, it can cause a lot of other conditions. The lung, heart, eyes and blood vessels can also feel the effects of this horrific condition. A careful eye and regular doctor visits are vital to the patient’s survival.
Helping a Patient Living With RA
It is recommended that a patient with RA have a long-term treatment plan in place. The treatment option should address their prognosis and how a nurse or caregiver should proceed. Caregivers need to encourage physical exercise. Of all the treatment used, exercise seems to be the most effective. Many RA patients will avoid physical activity for fear of heightening their pain levels. However, moving these joints keeps them from “freezing” and can actually bring pain relief.
Exercise can also do a great deal of help mental health issues too. Being active raised the serotonin levels in the brain, which is known to help with depression and anxiety. It is not uncommon for these patients to have many different forms of mental illness. Being trapped inside a body that isn’t working properly can have a great impact on one’s mental status.
Caring for Aging Parents With RA
The caregiver/patient situation becomes more difficult when the one you are caring for is your parent. As a child, you probably see your parent as a tower house of strength. It is easy to become angry and to try to push them to do things beyond their limits. Denial is a big part of the child caregiver. You don’t want your parent to suffer, and watching them go downhill is unbearable.
What you need to remember is that they cannot help what is happening to them. They cannot take a magic pill and it will all go away. The life-long illness they have will cause them to have more bad days than good. They may lash out or act in ways that are uncharacteristic of their typical demeanor. This can be an adverse effect on their medications or the condition affecting their mental status. Gather a support system within the family.
Never try to tackle the entire responsibility yourself. If there are no other siblings that can or will help, reach out to local agencies that can provide some assistance. Also, realize that there may come a time where you need nursing home care. Even for the strongest people, dealing with a debilitating condition such as RA can be overwhelming.