October 26, 2011

Products carrying the Arthritis Foundation's Ease-of-Use Commendation logo, like these Fiskars Titanium Easy Action Scissors, are easier to use for people living with arthritis.
Twisting off the top of a bottle of aspirin. Using scissors. Gripping a pen. These are the little tasks that most of us take for granted because we perform them hundreds of times each day without thinking. But for someone with arthritis, it's often the little tasks that become the most difficult.

Georgia Tech Research Institute's arthritis simulation gloves are designed to reduce the ability to grasp, pull, and rotate something.

I learned this recently when I tried out a pair of arthritis simulation gloves designed at the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI). Each glove resembles an average snow glove, but the fingers are contorted and stiff. Metal wires sandwiched between layers of neoprene and other fabrics reduce the wearer's ability to hold, pull, or rotate objects by as much as 50%. Simply making a fist or extending my fingers took considerable effort—and that was before I really got to work.

I tried using scissors and couldn't fit my twisted fingers into the handles. I tried writing my name and it came out looking like the work of a kindergartner. I tried, unsuccessfully, to open a child-proof bottle of pain relievers. I tried drinking from my water bottle and just barely missed spilling on myself. I couldn't even pick these items up off the table; I was forced to slide each one to the end of the table so it would fall into my other hand.

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After this, trying a range of products that had earned the stamp of approval from the Arthritis Foundation's Ease-of-Use program felt like a relief. And that's exactly what the gloves are for, says Brad Fain, PhD, principal research scientist and branch head at GTRI.

The mission of the Ease-of-Use program is to encourage product manufacturers to consider the needs of people living with arthritis. Companies purchase the simulation gloves to test out their own wares, and then apply to have their products reviewed by the Arthritis Foundation, a nonprofit advocacy organization based in Atlanta.

After an initial evaluation by scientists, people with arthritis test each product in real-life situations. A spatula isn't just picked up and held, it's actually baked with. Testing out a pillow usually requires an overnight stay in a sleep lab, and all aspects are tested out, including putting on the pillowcase. A coffee canister should not only be easy to open, but also easy to hold and pour. As much as 30% of the products fail the test, Fain says.

More than 100 products have been approved so far, many of which would make thoughtful gifts for people with arthritis this holiday season. For anyone, actually: That tough-to-open water bottle doesn't serve you so well when you're pounding the treadmill and your hands are slippery with sweat, right? A water bottle with the Ease-of-Use Commendation logo from the Arthritis Foundation would open in a cinch. What's easy for people with arthritis is easy for all of us.