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Tackling The Myths About Arthritis

Monday, October 12th is World Arthritis Day. A day that Arthritis New Zealand is using to tackle some myths about arthritis- myths that contribute to significant misunderstanding of the condition. Currently, over 700,000 people in New Zealand are affected by arthritis, making it a significant health condition and one that needs to be better understood.

Firstly it is a widespread myth that arthritis only affects the elderly. Actually, arthritis affects all ages- including children and teenagers. Parents of a child diagnosed with arthritis are often astonished and taken aback. “Isn’t that something that only old people get”? is a common question followed by “why don’t people realise that children can get arthritis?”

It is also very much a condition that affects people of working age. Half of the people that have arthritis in New Zealand are of working age, so measures such as adapting workplaces and looking at what equipment and technology will assist are increasingly important.

Sometimes a workplace does not understand that a person in their 30s can have arthritis. Suppose a manager has never encountered a younger person with arthritis. In that case, the reaction can be disbelief and re-iteration of the myth that it only affects the elderly.

Arthritis New Zealand can provide advice on a range of workplace issues about different forms of arthritis and how it can affect people. We provide advice to employers and employees on workplace issues including flexible working hours, extra time off to go to specialist appointments, and even the need for re-training for roles that require less physical lifting and carrying heavy goods. A common problem can be finding out that sick leave has been used up, and discussion may be needed with an employer to find a win-win solution for both parties.

Understanding of the economic cost of arthritis gives insight into why arthritis management needs to be improved in our health system. Research undertaken by Deloitte Access Economics for Arthritis New Zealand estimated that the cost of arthritis in this country is as high as $12 billion. This figure includes direct health costs, indirect costs such as loss of productivity and costs of loss of wellbeing.

This research estimates that by 2040 one million people (one in 6 ) in New Zealand will have arthritis, so funders and policymakers must recognise that we have this looming tsunami heading our way and accelerate planning to manage it.

Too often, it is assumed that there is little that can be done - “it’s just a bit of arthritis” is a phrase that we hear regularly. In reality, there is a great deal that can be done to maximise the quality of life for people with arthritis - finding exercise programmes that are arthritis-friendly, linking with others who have the same condition, understanding medication and how it affects you and your arthritis and understanding how to navigate the health system are all important services that Arthritis New Zealand provides. People needing help can contact us by phone 0800663463 or visiting our website www.arthritis.org.nz

We also make regular representations to government and the Ministry of Health and CEO Philip Kearney is available to comment on this work.

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