Daily living aids for people with rheumatoid arthritis

Photo of a prescription (PantherMedia / Florian K ttler)

There are a whole range of special devices, aids and gadgets designed to help people with rheumatoid arthritis in everyday life: from walking frames and dressing aids to special cutlery. The costs are often covered by health insurers in Germany and other countries.

In rheumatoid arthritis, certain joints are permanently inflamed. They may be swollen, painful and become stiff or deformed over time. The muscles can become weaker after a while too. If people have less strength in their fingers, they might have trouble holding objects with their hands. Even basic activities such as getting dressed or eating and drinking can then become a struggle.

Daily living aids can compensate for physical limitations and help with everyday activities. Occupational therapists can offer advice on the various devices available, and show you how to use them. Doctors specialized in orthopedics, rheumatology and geriatrics are often familiar with special devices too. Rehabilitation clinics and centers also provide information in this area, and lend people aids and devices. It can be a good idea to try them out because what works for one person might not be suitable for someone else.

What kinds of daily living aids are there?

Daily living aids can be useful for various activities:

  • Walking and standing: Orthopedic aids such as shoe inserts and special orthopedic shoes aim to change the position of the foot in the shoe, taking pressure off the joints in the foot. Walking aids such as easy-to-grip walking sticks and walking frames can help people get around at home and when out and about.
  • Eating and drinking: Special knives, forks and spoons with large handles made out of rubber or foam are easier to grip and hold. Angled cutlery makes it easier to cut things, and specially shaped tin openers and bottle openers can help open these everyday objects. There are also special cups and glasses, as well as special cup holders and glass holders.
  • Getting dressed: Various special devices have been designed to help people put on things like socks, stockings and trousers. There are also buttoning aids, as well as special racks that are mounted on a wall and designed to make it easier to put on tops when getting dressed.
  • Personal hygiene: Shower stools and bathtub chair lifts can make it easier to wash yourself. People with limited mobility can also use special combs, brushes and sponges with long handles.
  • Work: Specially designed keyboards and writing aids can make office work easier. Foam wedges for desk chairs can provide support for your spine.
  • Gripping objects: Grip and handle extensions are available for a variety of objects, including cutlery, keys, door handles, pens and taps. These are attached to the objects in order make it easier to grasp, hold or use them. There are special "grabbers" or “reachers” too. Non-slip surfaces can help keep things like plates or chopping boards in place in the kitchen. Non-slip mats can prevent you from slipping and falling in the kitchen or bathroom.

Who pays for daily living aids?

In Germany, statutory health insurers cover the costs of daily living aids apart from a fixed co-payment which you pay yourself. But insurers will only cover those costs if the aid was prescribed by a doctor and if it is an approved device. For instance, they might want to check whether the aid is suitable for helping with a specific limitation. Approved daily living aids are usually available in medical supply stores and pharmacies that have a special supply contract with the health insurer. The health insurer will tell you where you can get them.

If someone needs nursing care and has already received their official care level classification, their nursing care insurance (Pflegeversicherung) may cover the costs of daily living aids too. This is the case if, for instance, the aid serves the purpose of improving safety in and around the home (e.g. a handrail in the hallway). Installing a stair lift can even help you to avoid having to move to a new home.

Special appliances that aim to make it easier to carry on working, such as ergonomic computer keyboards, can also be paid for by pension funds (Rentenversicherung). An application has to be made here, too.

Under certain circumstances, other institutions such as the social welfare office (Sozialamt) or accident insurance providers (Unfallversicherung) can cover the costs of daily living aids.

Doctors, health insurers and nursing care insurers offer advice and information about who is responsible for covering the costs in individual cases.