The Impact of Arthritis on Families

Many changes occur in the life of someone who must live with a chronic condition, such as arthritis. It not only affects the person who has the disease but also significantly impacts the people around them, especially their family.

Family watching television on sofa
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Living with chronic arthritis can have a major impact on marriage. Lifestyle changes are likely to occur as physical limitations become more prevalent. As restrictions become imposing, some activities may need to be curtailed. A married couple's social life is one thing that can be affected since the spouse with arthritis is unable to do as much. Though curtailing activities may be necessary to help control pain and fatigue the healthy spouse can become frustrated because their social life is impacted, too.

Another consequence of living with chronic arthritis is how it alters family responsibilities. Chores and responsibilities may need to be transferred to another family member who can better handle it. This can create a stressful situation for both the person who must undertake more responsibility and the person who must admit that they have become more dependent. Financial responsibility is another area which may require modification if the arthritis patient has been the main breadwinner in the family and if a career transition is forced by disability.

The Solution: Patience is required and the willingness to openly communicate fears, concerns, and anxieties. An understanding between partners must be achieved in order to continue working as a team.

Young Children

Young children are very dependent on their parents. When a parent has chronic arthritis, the child will likely grow up approaching the disease the way they observe their parent approaching it. If a child observes acceptance, they will mirror the acceptance. The most difficult part for a parent is when they realize they cannot do as much with the child, especially in the physical sense. The focus must be on the things you can still do together. Quantity of time spent together becomes secondary to quality time.

The Solution: Young children are unlikely to ask many questions about arthritis, however, be open to addressing their fears. Make it known to them that arthritis is not a fatal disease, and convey to them the feeling that everything is under control. Allow them to feel secure.


Dealing with adolescents is different than dealing with young children. Adolescents are older and able to read, learn, and understand more complex information. They are likely to have more questions about the disease and about the resulting family situation. Adolescents typically are becoming more independent just at the time when you may need them more. At a time when their help may be required with household chores, they are at a stage when they want to do less. Conflict can occur because of this, but if it is realized by everyone concerned that with more responsibility comes more privilege, a unique compromise can be maintained.

The Solution: Address all questions which adolescents might pose, realizing their need to understand the situation. Realize their emotional needs at this time in their life. Create and maintain a give and take atmosphere whereby their dependability is recognized as maturity and rewarded with privileges.


It is very hard for parents to cope with the fact that their son or daughter has a disease. Besides feeling bad for the obvious reason that their child has a problem, the parent often feels somehow responsible. A parent may feel you inherited it from them or that they caused it. There are typically two different reactions that parents can have towards the disease. Parents who choose to deny the problem become the "ignorers." They show less and less concern, ask fewer and fewer questions, and downplay the disease. In contrast, parents can choose to be overly concerned. These parents feel total responsibility for you and feel the need to take care of you. They disregard the fact that you can take care of yourself. They become "smotherers."

The Solution: Try discussing the conflict and see if an understanding can be achieved where both the parent and child have their needs met. If parents are unwilling to change their attitude, concentrate on making yourself feel better.


Various emotions can be triggered between siblings when one sibling has a disease and the other is healthy. The sibling with the disease can sometimes feel jealousy, envy, or resentment towards the sibling who has been blessed with an easier life. The healthy sibling can feel jealousy too, for extra attention which is given to the unhealthy sibling. Pity towards the unhealthy sibling also can develop. By recognizing their differences and yet not understanding why circumstances are as they are, siblings may have to work through complex emotions.

The Solution: Everyone concerned must realize that things are a certain way, even if unexplainable. Once again, understanding and communication are critical. Siblings must accept the reality of the situation and allow each other to achieve all that is possible.

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  • Coping With Rheumatoid Arthritis, by Robert H. Phillips, Ph.D.