Adapting Your House When You Have Arthritis

Spending more time at home these days may reveal hidden hazards. Learn tips to make your home safer and more arthritis-friendly.

By Carolyn Sayre

We’re all spending more time at home these days. Whether you have osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis or psoriatic arthritis, a few simple adjustments can make cooking, bathing, doing laundry and other daily tasks easier. 

You don’t need to spend thousands of dollars on remodeling improvements. There are steps you can take to make your home safe and protect your joints.

“The goal is to use adaptations to preserve your ability to perform and participate in activities of daily living,” says Scott Trudeau, PhD, occupational therapist, productive aging program manager at the American Occupational Therapy Association.

Here are six tips to help you prep your abode for life with arthritis.

Identify the Roadblocks
An occupational therapist can help you identify which home modifications are right for you. Ask your rheumatologist, primary care physician, or insurance company for referrals. Look for individuals who have the credentials CAPS (Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist) or SCEM (Specialty Certification in Environmental Modification), which indicate they specialize in home adaptations.

When occupational therapists meet new clients, the first thing they do is discuss a typical day’s activities. “This helps clients think about their priorities and where they see themselves getting into trouble,” explains Trudeau.

Trudeau, who has experience in recommending home modifications for individuals with arthritis, advises his clients to think about their worst days. “It is great if you can get in and out of bed safely 80% of the time, but you need to prepare your space for the 20% of the time that your body is at risk,” he says.

Conserve Energy
The bathroom and the kitchen are two areas where adaptations can help to manage pain and save energy,” says Rawan Alheresh, PhD, assistant professor at the Massachusetts General Hospital Institute of Health Professions. “It’s important to conserve as much energy as possible so you can use it later in the day to participate in the things that really matter to you.”

  • Avoid bending and reaching when possible. Keep items at counter level and use a grabber tool to reduce the need to stretch for items.
  • Purchase smaller size items that are easier to handle. For example, laundry detergent that utilizes disposable pods and eliminates the need to lift large bottles.
  • Sit while doing common activities. For example, put a chair next to the sink so you don’t have to stand while washing dishes.
  • Adjust your timing. Prepare dinner at midday if your hands tend to hurt in the evening, for example.

Avoid Slips and Falls
Safety is first and foremost, says Trudeau. People with arthritis are more likely to fall or experience new fractures. The biggest hazard is the bathroom. Stay safe with these modifications:

  • Keep an adjustable transfer bench next to the bathtub to help you get in and out.
  • Use a seat in the shower.
  • Install grab bars by the tub, shower and toilet.
  • Buy a highboy toilet seat or commode if squatting is painful.
  • Put slip mats in the tub and by the toilet.
  • Turn on a bedside lamp or use a touch light when you go the bathroom at night.

Practice Stair and Hallway Safety
If your hips or knees are severely affected, you may benefit from a stair lift or a ramp. But these simple changes can also help:

  • Install slip mats on stairs.
  • Hold a cane in one hand for support and use the railing to go up and down the stairs.
  • Install guard rails on outdoor steps.
  • Make sure your outdoor path is well lit.
  • Remove throw rugs and secure your carpets.
  • Clear walking paths and any clutter throughout the house.

Alter Kitchen Habits
Meal prep can be cumbersome for people with hand and wrist arthritis. Here are some ways to make working in the kitchen easier:

  • Put the cookware and appliances you use often on the counter, so you don’t have to bend, stretch, or reach into drawers or cabinets.
  • Replace heavy stoneware for lighter pots and pans.
  • Use ergonomically designed kitchen tools, such as a rocker knife.
  • Get an electric can and jar opener and buy pre-chopped fruits and vegetables.

Change Where Items Are Located
If climbing the stairs to the bedroom is difficult, move your bedroom downstairs. Get a mini-fridge for your bedroom to reduce how often you need to go the kitchen, especially if your medicine must be refrigerated or you need to take it with food. If carrying the laundry basket down to the basement is no longer safe, get some to move the machine upstairs. The plumbing may be costly but could be worth it in the long run.

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