Bernie O’Brien, 77, from Christchurch, experiences excruciating pain from his osteoarthritis and has done for many years. Seeking help from an arthritis educator helped him learn to manage his flare-ups better.

There is an unspoken fact of life that most of us assume osteoarthritis is just something we will have to “put up with as part of aging.” The elderly are expected to get on with it and embracing it as part of the privilege of aging. More than 160,000 people over the age of 75 years old in New Zealand live with the pain of osteoarthritis. These people are our aunts, uncles, friends, and grandparents.

Bernie attended an arthritis support session organised by the charity Arthritis New Zealand and met with an arthritis educator. “I was in that seminar for two hours. Allan (arthritis educator) was helpful, informative, and a lovely guy. He even followed up with me in the weeks afterward to see how I was getting on.”

The arthritis educator reinforced Bernie’s knowledge of osteoarthritis and how to manage a flare-up. Bernie’s arthritis pain comes on top of what has been a life full of medical challenges. As a result of an accident Bernie’s mother had before childbirth, he had infantile paralysis on his left side. He couldn’t walk properly until the age of 13. Through his determination and medical care, he was able to lead an active life and participated in many sports.

“There are good days and bad days. The bad days only come when I have a flare-up from my arthritis. It stops me from being able to do anything and is very frustrating!”

Bernie has spent a long time figuring out what works best for him. He’s found a suitable diet, he exercises, and he’s extremely interested in yuan qigong – a system of meditation and coordinated body movements. He’s found that these things help him in dealing with pain and living his day-to-day life.

“It’s about finding balance and acceptance,” he says. “Some people think they’re bullet-proof, but the human body has its flaws.”

Bernie says that when you find out you have any form of arthritis, your first port of call should be to ring Arthritis New Zealand. “Ask for the guidance and help, and then build a network of support.”

It’s just arthritis, but what about the cost?

Medical costs for arthritis amounted to $1 billion in 2018. Of that, a third were in-hospital expenses (public and private).

The findings in the recent Economic Cost of Arthritis in New Zealand report have significant implications for how the health system manages arthritis. Some key findings related to health care costs:

  • Health sector costs related to arthritis were estimated to be $992.5 million in 2018, equivalent to 23% of total financial costs.
  • Of this, an estimated one third is attributable to hospital inpatient costs ($321.0 million). Public inpatient costs were estimated to be $244.0 million, and private inpatient costs were estimated to be significantly lower, at $77.0 million.
  • Residential aged cared costs related to arthritis were estimated to be $97.9 million, while arthritis-related pathology and diagnostic imaging costs were estimated to be $96.4 million, and pharmaceuticals costs were estimated to be $69.5 million.

Arthritis can affect anyone at any age, and new figures released in 2018 reveal that more than 670,000 people in New Zealand have a form of arthritis – 406,000 of these have osteoarthritis.

Help us make a difference for the 670,000 New Zealanders affected by arthritis. Look out for our collectors on 27 September. You can also donate by clicking “Donate Now” above or give $20 by dialling 0900 333 20.

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