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Support System

Empowering people with Arthritis

How can design improve the lives of people living with arthritis to help them access the information they need about products, aids and tips?

Approximately 33 per cent of people aged 45 and over seek help for Osteoarthritis, a condition that occurs when the body’s joints break down, resulting in damaged joints that become painful to move. Osteoarthritis is the most common form of chronic joint damage. It is mostly associated with an older demographic, but can affect people from as early as their 20s. Osteoarthritis affects every aspect of the individual’s life in an immediate way, and finding ways of supporting everyday life (from opening a jar to stepping into the shower) can present a real challenge.

Arthritis Research UK, partners of the Support System project, have recognised that although there is currently a lot of information about the condition, there is a lack of organisation of the material – particularly online. The internet contains numerous websites that are often not properly accredited, and while local GPs and health clinics can help to point people with osteoarthritis information sources that are better established, there is not a clearly centralised ‘hub’. This can often lead to a poor experience for those trying to find help.

Researchers Ela Neagu and Lizzie Raby have taken a holistic approach and spent time with those living with osteoarthritis, conducting a series of in-depth interviews and a range of activity-based workshops alongside healthcare professionals. The project is currently in its second year of development with the two researchers joining forces and building on their areas of expertise and research undertaken in year one, where Ela and Lizzie developed two schemes: the ‘Arthritis Hub’ (a database designed to gather, signpost and facilitate easy access to information through holistic and intuitive navigation) and the Arthritis Challenge’ (which utilises social media to connect people helping them share through existing social network).

They gained several key insights into how people cope with their condition: many find creative solutions for dealing with everyday tasks (e.g. one participant described using a peg to get their card out of the cash-point). The complexity of locating useful information means people will often rely on word-of- mouth to find the right product or advice – they are also often eager to share the tips that are effective; and they also want both accessible and non-stigmatising information that caters to their individual needs.

A person’s experience always comes first at the Centre, based on this, a new avenue to how people buy specialised products and find advice has been developed. The typical online shop that sells disability products is a joyless experience. This has led many people to search everyday (non specialised) products for support. Alongside that, many are not aware of what products are available to help them (or what they are called). For these reasons, a database, which includes products (specialised and everyday) and peer to peer support through tips, has been setup with a holistic approach, to form the basis of tackling this information gap and spreading the word whilst considering people’s individual socio-economic status and phase of their arthritis. The method most suitable for people to access this information online  was to create a more supportive and guided entry point entirely based on the information that people have available (which joints and actions are most problematic, directly describing the issue they face e.g. ‘I can’t wash my hair’), with a clearer hierarchy of information and content (videos showing people with different kinds of arthritis using a product or performing a tip) and user driven structured shopping experience which de-stigmatises the condition and boosts confidence for the individual.

See previous projects with Arthritis Research UK: 2016, 2015, 2014

Research Associates: 
Lizzie RabyEla Neagu

Age & Diversity Research Leader: 
Dr Chris McGinley

Research Partner: 
Arthritis Research UK