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family dynamics and arthritis

When Arthritis is a Family Affair

Alberta Dillihay’s children began urging her to stop working soon after her 2010 rheumatoid arthritis (RA) diagnosis. Stress from her job as a public works supervisor in a busy office 45 minutes from her home, combined with finding the right arthritis treatments, could affect her health, they argued.

“I was and am glad they were concerned and want to help. But sometimes it’s frustrating because you feel you’re being treated like a kid,” says Dillihay, 63. “You can still do what you need to do.”

When a mom has arthritis, the family dynamic often changes. “That means who’s in charge shifts, as does who’s taking care of whom,” says Eve Wittenberg, PhD, a senior research scientist in the Center for Health Decision Science at Harvard University in Boston. “There are downsides, but there can also be huge satisfaction to changing a relationship with a child or partner; the ability to let others help can strengthen bonds,” says Wittenberg, who studies family dynamics in chronic illness. She and Nancy Ruddy, PhD, a clinical psychologist at Montefiore Health System’s College of Medicine in New York City, offer this advice. 

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