Getting around, home adaptations and daily living

Fatigue, pain, and loss of strength and mobility (ability to move around) are some of the effects of arthritis that make it harder for people with arthritis to live independently.
Some people may find that they need to allow extra time to move around the home to do things like answer the door or pick up the telephone. Strength and dexterity (ability to do tasks using the hands) can be issues when it comes to opening doors or windows, or doing jobs that involve carrying loads – like the washing or bringing in the shopping. People with arthritis may also find the fluctuating nature of their condition difficult to manage. On good days, managing alone may be easy. On bad days, you may find daily tasks tiring and painful, which can be frustrating.
Getting around
The people we spoke to had varying levels of difficulty when it came to movement (mobility). Some experienced very few difficulties and enjoyed taking part in physical activities like football, dancing or playing on their Nintendo Wii. This happened when people went into remission (their symptoms went away) or when they received the right balance of treatments (see ‘Staying fit and healthy’ and sections on different medications). Sometimes mobility improved lots after surgery (see ‘Surgery’).
Some people had problems standing or walking for long periods of time (e.g. they struggled to walk to school or to the shops). Others had difficulties carrying things when walking (e.g. bags with school books or shopping bags). These difficulties may come and go during a flare or they may always be present (see ‘What is arthritis and early symptoms’ and ‘Disease progression’).
Some of the people we spoke to had difficulties walking short distances or even just standing up. They sometimes relied on crutches.
Some people had difficulties using crutches. This was sometimes because arthritis affected the joints needed to use the crutches. Some did not have the strength to support themselves. Others found that using crutches for a long time put stress and strain on the unaffected joints and made them hurt.
Some of the people we spoke to who had severe arthritis used wheelchairs. Ryan used a supermarket’s mobility scooter when he went shopping with his mum. Because of advances in medical treatment it is rare for young people with arthritis to use wheelchairs and mobility scooters.
People sometimes had difficulties with wheelchairs. For example, they did not have the strength to push themselves. Some said the streets were not wide enough and the roads were too bumpy. Not all buildings and places were accessible – they lacked ramps or lifts. Marie said that her son, Ryan, was measured for a wheelchair but it took so long to be delivered by the time it arrived it was too small for him.
Having access to a car could make a real difference to people’s lives. Those who had a car said they had more freedom and independence to go out whenever they wanted. Ruth’s family could not afford a car for a while so she used to go the hospital in an ambulance. She remembers spending long periods waiting to be picked up and dropped off. Dan said having a car opened up his life. It improved his social life and got him out of the house when he was feeling down.
The usual minimum age for driving cars is 17 but if you receive the higher rate of the mobility component of the Personal Independence Payment, PIP, (formerly Disability Living Allowance), you can hold a licence from 16.
Some of the people we spoke to passed their test at 16 and felt that they had a lot more freedom.
People also talked about the importance of public transport such as buses and trains with accessible seats and affordable taxi schemes. David Z said he needed to live in a city with good transport links to shops. Ryan was given permission to use a supermarket’s mobility scooter when he went shopping. Some of the people we spoke to had Blue Badges so they could use disabled parking spaces.
People said that members of the public did not always understand that young people get arthritis too.  Sometimes young people were given “dirty looks” if they used disabled parking bays. They were also asked to move from disabled seats on buses and trains for elderly people. Some moved without being asked because they were worried what other people would think or say.
Home adaptations and practical aids
Some of the people we spoke to made changes to their homes or bought things to make life easier.  Some things like stair lifts were expensive whilst other things like bath boards were relatively cheap. Sometimes people found financial help but others had to pay for things themselves (see ‘Money and financial support’). Occupational therapists could recommend what to buy. People talked about having wheelchair ramps, bannisters fitted to stairs, lever taps, walk-in showers, electric bath seats, good mattresses, wrist supports, steps to rest feet on at the dining table, and kettle tippers. When Chantelle was younger she could not get up to her bedroom so her parents moved her bed downstairs.
Getting dressed and undressed could also be difficult. If people had difficulties using their hands then clothes with zips and Velcro on made things easier. If they had problems with their feet they could have insoles made for their shoes. Caitriona said knee-high socks kept her legs warm and supported. Gemma liked to “layer-up” when she is cold. She wears leggings, jeans and a chunky dressing gown at the same time. This warms her up and makes her more mobile.
Some young women described how putting on make-up or moisturiser could be difficult and another thing that required planning and thinking of.
Support with daily life and getting around challenges
People sometimes relied on others to support them on a day to day basis.  Some needed help getting to the toilet or getting in and out of the bath at home. At school some needed a teaching assistant to carry bags, push their wheelchair or escort them in the lift (see ‘School, college and university). People with jobs said they sometimes asked others for small favours if they were having a bad day, such as walking to the printer for them.
The amount of support people need varied. On bad days they might ask for help with small things like going to the shop. Some had adapted and learned to cope independently, such as washing themselves with one hand instead of two. Sometimes people required lots of help on a daily basis.
Preparing to go out
People talked about preventing pain, stiffness and mobility difficulties by taking regular breaks and sitting down. Some said that they rested lots in the evening and put hot or cold packs on joints so they would not seize up. Some said they lived life at a slower pace. They talked about pacing themselves and knowing their limits (see ‘Fatigue, sleep and energy levels’). They also talked about the difficulties of getting around certain places because of problems such as a lack of lifts on the London Underground. Elizabeth said she sometimes had a hard time getting out and about and said that cities and places like theatres were not built for wheelchair users. David Z said he had difficulties going to clubs and gigs to see bands because he could not stand for a long period of time. He started playing the piano in his own band which “opened up possibilities” such as meeting new people.
Some talked about how tiring it was when they had to plan basic daily activities that people without arthritis took for granted.

Last reviewed November 2018.
Last updated August 2015.
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