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Love, Kindness, and Osteoarthritis

Update Date: Jun 20, 2017 06:32 PM EDT

Aesop once said, "No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted." His words have recently been scientifically validated in a study about the effect of simple human kindness on people with osteoarthritis.

Spouses, friends, and caregivers take note: If someone in your life is in physical pain, the best thing you can do is show loving empathy.

The pain of osteoarthritis can be very hard on sufferers. The cartilage at the joints wears down or disintegrates over time. The condition is degenerate and can affect the hands, resulting in swollen knuckles, leading to a lack of use. Bouchard's nodes and Heberden's nodes make it painful to pick up anything. Osteoarthritis in the back makes sitting and walking difficult.

About 240 million people deal with some type of osteoarthritis. Eighteen percent of women over 60 years old have it. The pain of this condition diminishes the quality of life for many people.

But this is not a report on pain. It is a report on the unusual value of human kindness.

Stephanie J. Wilson, in a dissertation at Ohio State University, asked a question. What is the best way for a spouse to treat a loved one that has osteoarthritis? Wilson and her advisors Martin J. Sliwinski and Lynn M. Martire wanted to know if kindness from a spouse could be scientifically correlated with increased physical abilities in the osteoarthritis sufferer.

Wilson had the arthritis patient keep a diary, denoting the kind of attention a spouse gave to them. Then, after periods of six and 18 months, the research team analyzed the patient's physical abilities.

Any married person can tell you it is hard to categorize what your spouse means in every situation, but Wilson asked sufferers to note down each day for three weeks if their spouse was empathetic, solicitous, or frustrated.

 A spouse that acted with attention and love was marked as empathetic. A spouse that did all tasks for them or encouraged rest were marked solicitous. Frustrated spouses showed fits of anger and irritated and engaged in punishing behavior.

After six months, and again after 18 months, Wilson measured the patient's physical prowess. Those who received empathetic kindness showed significant improvement over those who received solicitous or frustration. They were more able to get out of a chair and walk.

It might seem like common sense to slow a suffering spouse love and empathy. To some, however, it might seem a better strategy to run to get medication or tell your spouse to remain in bed or on a chair. This study clearly says, if your marriage partner is hurting, pay attention and be nice.

Aesop would have agreed. A little kindness goes a long way.

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