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​3 steps to explaining your OA to your family

27th September 2018

A diagnosis of osteoarthritis (OA) will likely have an impact on your daily life. However, it will also impact those around you. You may have mobility issues or require additional support in certain areas. In order for those around you to provide the support you need and to put their minds at rest about your diagnosis, it is important that they fully understand the condition. If you have recently been diagnosed with OA, but have yet to discuss it with those closest to you, here are three steps to explaining the disease to your family.

Understand your diagnosis

Before you can help those around you to understand and accommodate your OA, it is important you have a clear understanding of your diagnosis. This may have been made by your GP following a physical examination and assessment of your described symptoms. Alternatively, you may have had further tests. Your OA might be mild (stage 1) and cause minimum disruption, or it may be severe (stage 4). Immediately following your diagnosis, you might feel some negative emotions and may even feel uncertain about what the future holds. It is therefore important that you ask as many questions as possible about your diagnosis and about coping with the condition. As well as asking your GP and other medical professionals, you might find it helpful to read up about the condition. Organisations such as Arthritis Care and Arthritis Research UK offer plenty of detailed information on their websites. In addition to detailing the condition, you can find advice on such things as diet, relationships and exercise. The more informed you are, the better you can explain your diagnosis to your family and help them understand the impact it may have on everyday life and how they can best help you in managing the condition.

Once you have a definite diagnosis, your doctor will be able to recommend an individual treatment plan. Options include surgical and non-surgical treatments. The treatment will depend upon the extent of the OA, but generally, your GP will explore non-surgical options first, such as knee bracing, exercises and adjusting other lifestyle factors that can exacerbate the condition. When you come to discuss your diagnosis with your family, it will be helpful to also explain these treatment options and which of them your GP has recommended for you. The fact that OA is a called a degenerative disease can create additional anxiety. Indeed, the word ‘degenerative’ suggests a condition that will get steadily worse over time. However, while there is currently no cure for OA, the available treatments can be highly effective in improving the condition, alleviating your discomfort and stopping the OA progressing. When you do discuss your diagnosis with your family, it’s important to make them aware of this. OA may be a serious condition, but it is one that can be managed.

Talk with your family

Once you have a full understanding of your diagnosis, you should take some time discussing it with your family in a calm and relaxed environment. If you have been living with pain or limited movement for some time, your diagnosis may not come as a complete shock to those around you. However, a definite diagnosis means that you have a solid foundation on which to discuss your condition and the possible impact on daily life. Of course, how much impact OA will have on your day-to-day activities depends on the severity of the condition and the effectiveness of the treatments. If your condition is quite mild, you might find OA doesn’t hold you back, but a more severe condition might require some changes and adjustments to your normal routine. Don't forget that those around you might initially be unsure how best to help you. They might want to step in and do everything for you, or they might take a step back and leave you to manage alone. So, it’s important that you let your family know what you need from them. This way, they can get the balance right between offering adequate support and allowing you the level of independence you need. You should also take some time to talk about the treatments that your GP has suggested, especially if surgery is an option. Surgical treatments can range from injections to a total knee replacement. While these options are usually only suggested after non-surgical options have been exhausted, preparing your family for the possibility of surgery at an early stage is a good idea.

In addition to the practical implications of OA, you might want to take some time to explain the emotional side. People diagnosed with OA can experience a range of emotions, from fear about the future, to sadness, anger, or a determination not to let the condition affect them. There is no right or wrong way to feel, but it is important that those closest to you understand your emotions and appreciate that there are times you might feel a little bit down. If you experience long-term feelings of depression, you might need to seek additional help, so don’t be afraid to let those around you know that you’re struggling. While there is plenty of support available for those diagnosed with OA, it’s important to understand that there is also support out there for those caring for someone with arthritis. In addition to the information on this site, again Arthritis Care and Arthritis Research UK are good starting points for anyone who has questions about a loved one diagnosed with OA. One of the more frustrating aspects of OA is that it can be unpredictable. While effective treatments are available, there will be times when your OA will present challenges and it will help those around you greatly if they have a full understanding of the condition, so they are well-placed to help you overcome those challenges.

Create a plan

In addition to the treatment plan developed with your GP, you could also consider creating a plan with your family that takes into account changes to your daily life. The content of this plan will depend upon the severity of your condition. However, things to consider might include diet and activity. If your doctor recommends that you make changes to help you manage the condition, such as losing weight or incorporating exercise into your lifestyle, it may be helpful to involve those around you, for example, by going for regular walks or introducing dietary changes for the whole family. By participating in your treatment, those closest to you may also feel like they are providing active support. When building a plan, other things you might want to think about are any assistance you may need with medications and physical therapies. You might also want other types of practical support, such as applying for social security payments, or help with household chores and transportation.

While a diagnosis of OA can be distressing, it also provides an opportunity for treatment that can minimise any pain or discomfort you are experiencing. By involving those around you at an early stage, they will be in the best possible position to provide you with the practical and emotional support you need to live with and manage your OA. So, take some time to discuss the condition and your specific diagnosis and let your loved ones help you to enjoy life to the fullest.

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