enticton, B.C.-resident Regine Anderson is one of the more than 300,000 Canadians who has rheumatoid arthritis (RA). It’s a painful condition caused by inflammation of the joints. Despite that, she’s living her life to the fullest. “I love to go square dancing,” says the energetic 67-year-old. “I try to get out and walk for an hour three times a week too.”

She was diagnosed almost 20 years ago after experiencing swelling in her hands and feet. As her fingers began to twist over time, it made typing difficult in her role as an inventory clerk. Her rheumatologist suggested a new drug designed to target the debilitating inflammation. Since then, she says she has had very few flare ups. When they do occur, even everyday tasks like taking the top off a water bottle, or using a computer keyboard, are nearly impossible.

Ergonomic designs help manage arthritis

She has come to rely on ergonomically savvy gadgets to help her cope, like a telescopic stick to pick up small items from the floor. Even the treatment she has been using for five years now is designed to accommodate the needs of RA patients like her. Its award-winning syringe design makes it easy to grasp and allows for pain-free, virtually effortless injections.

“Back then, there wasn’t a lot we could do. Arthritis was a life-limiting disease."

As rates of all types of arthritis increase along with a maturing population, design is playing a bigger and more important role in helping Canadians manage their condition, from household chores to gardening. The Arthritis Society’s Ease of Use program assists more than 4.6-million Canadians who have some degree of pain or disability due to arthritis. It tests products for their ease of operation by those with the condition.

As Bruce Watson, the organization’s director of business and foundation development, explains: “People with significant joint damage or inflammation due to arthritis often find it difficult to perform certain actions the rest of us take for granted, such as picking up a pencil or turning a doorknob. Ease of Use certification gives the patients confidence they are buying a product designed with their needs in mind.”

The program can offer an important point of differentiation from a manufacturer’s competitors, and also gives them an opportunity to leverage the reputation, visibility, and credibility of The Arthritis Society when promoting its products. “Canadians living with some degree of pain or disability from arthritis represent a sizeable market,” Watson continues. “It makes good business sense for manufacturers to be interested in designing products to meet the unique needs of those affected by arthritis.”

Ergonomic design plays a key role in allowing those with arthritis to function in their homes, offices, and communities normally. That freedom and independence is empowering, and can help give the person confidence and peace of mind that they can continue to live a good life despite their arthritis.

New treatment alternatives

Over the last 30 years, Dr. William Bensen, a rheumatologist and clinical professor at McMaster University in Hamilton, has seen a world of change when it comes to treatment and how it impacts patients’ lives. “Back then, there wasn’t a lot we could do. Arthritis was a life-limiting disease. Now, with the new medications available, we can get people back into their normal universe and back on track,” he says.

The current protocol is to address the disease early on before inflammation can cause serious pain and swelling — akin to putting out a fire before it spreads. Prescribed treatments might include physiotherapy, occupational therapy, exercise, healthy eating, and relaxation techniques, along with newer types of medications. With these, 80–90 percent of patients see an improvement. The fact they are easy to self-administer is a big plus, too.

“My arthritis might slow me down a bit, but it won’t stop me from doing anything I want to do — that’s my attitude.”

“It’s about trust,” says Dr. Bensen. “It’s critical, especially with a medication that is injected. People have confidence in their use because they are pre-filled and very ergonomic to use. The syringes are not made in the conventional way — not a lot of pressure needed, with more control and better grip. They feel differently in your hand.”

Patients who once could not hold a coffee cup, make a tight fist, or had trouble walking can experience a dramatic improvement in their mobility and pain levels in 4–12 weeks. For people like Regine Anderson, the new generation of arthritis medication means being able to hit the dance floor and do what she loves. “My arthritis might slow me down a bit, but it won’t stop me from doing anything I want to do — that’s my attitude.”