Nurses Can Play Key Role in Providing Self-Support for Patients with Rheumatoid Arthritis

JULY 10, 2015
Bill Schu
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patients experience more than lingering, variable pain. Often, RA pain can impact every aspect of a person’s life, leading to isolation, depression, anxiety, lack of physical activity, and a host of other ills. Most experts agree that self-support tools—along with emotional support from loved ones, fellow RA patients, healthcare providers, and friends—is a key component of managing RA.
While rheumatologists may be generally aware of this need, other caregivers—including primary care physicians and nurses—are potentially responsible for a great deal of RA care. Also, simply being aware of RA patients’ needs isn’t enough. A 2014 study in the Annals of Rheumatic Diseases showed that while half of RA patients suffer psychological distress early in their illness, fewer than 25% are ever asked if they are experiencing depression or anxiety.
Often, this is a case of finite resources and demand on rheumatologists’ time. But nurses and other caregivers may be able to bridge the gap. The Annals study noted that, “Most patients said they’d prefer [emotional] support from their rheumatology team…but they would be willing to take part in a self-management coping clinic or counseling, given the opportunity.”
A study in the International Journal of Nursing Studies looked at self-management support needs for RA patients and found that the development of nursing interventions tailored to the needs of rheumatoid arthritis patients can go a long way to providing the emotional and social support needed.
The study authors conducted a scoping review of studies on RA patients over the age of 18, with a focus on studies reporting results on support needs from 2002 to 2013. Their review shows that RA patient needs extend beyond emotional support to education and social support. In particular, the study revealed a gap for support in the areas of exercise and medication regimens. Many of the 17 papers reviewed also indicated that support is more effective when tailored to the individual needs of the patient. “Considering patients’ perspective as a starting point for delivering support for self-management can lead to the development of nursing interventions tailored to the [patients’] needs,” the authors noted.
Nurses and other healthcare professionals can talk to patients about the many support options available to them, including arthritis support groups, family and friends, keeping a journal or diary as an outlet, and making sure lifestyle choices such as getting enough sleep and exercising regularly.

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