‘Arthritis is not an old person’s disease’

Arthritis Awareness Week

Tadhg Evans

With Arthritis Awareness Week running until April 14, a young Tralee man has spoken about life since being diagnosed with osteoarthritis in 2017.

Stephen Roche was in the final year of his Creative Writing Studies in IT Tralee when he was diagnosed. Not long after playing in a tennis competition in Tipperary, he found himself in such pain that he couldn’t get out of bed.

The diagnosis came soon after. He had experienced lower-back pain before, but it always went. On this occasion, it was here to stay.

"I didn't know what it was," Stephen says in the company of Ger Collins of Arthritis Ireland Kerry. "I remember asking the doctor when it was going to go away - they told me it wasn't." He has since had to give up tennis as the pressure on his knees was too great. It also affected his social life.

"I couldn't always go out when I wanted to," he says. "Some people think it's an excuse not to go out, but it isn't. I was in Vicar Street at a concert lately, and it was so packed, I was trying to stay away from people. My knee was in pain, and I walked out as quickly as I could. He has also had positive experiences since then, however. He now works a desk job in digital marketing and has reaped the benefits of linking up with Arthritis Ireland's Kerry Branch.

"The difference I see in Stephen since joining is huge," Ger says. “His personality is coming back, he’s making friends – it’s lovely to see. I’ve met a lot of young people with arthritis at conferences over the years... There’s a certain isolation, you can’t go to a lot of events, do things others your age are out doing. But we give people of all ages an outlet.

"We have walks on the old Fenit railway line Monday and Wednesdays; we have aqua-jogging and aqua-aerobics in Tralee Sports Complex on Fridays; on Tuesdays we run a dance programme tailored for people with mobility issues. We also have an open day coming up in the complex on April 14, and we'd welcome everyone to come along and find out about what we do."

One of the big aspects of Arthritis Awareness Week is encouraging those with Arthritis to be given the flexibility they need to work. Stephen, for example, needs breaks from his desk, to stretch if he needs to, or go for a walk. But not all employers understand such needs, Ger says.

"We're almost at full employment in the country working, but with people with disabilities it's down around 30 per cent," he says.

"We're asking that employers be more lenient.  They need to understand we can work, we just need the circumstances and the arrangements put in place.

"People have it in their head that it's an old person's disease. It's not."