People with arthritis may have problems with performing simple daily tasks. But how does rheumatoid arthritis affect a person’s capability to use a keyboard and therefore their performance at work? This is the question that researchers from the University of Pitt decided to address.
The researchers followed up 45 patients listed in the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) Arthritis Network Registry. The participants were most women with an average age of 55, and had been suffering from rheumatoid arthritis for about 17 years. Half of participants are employed full or part-time, and everybody in the group of working participants used computers in their jobs.
The researchers evaluated the hand function of the participants using the Keitel Hand Function Index (KHFI) and the Arthritis Hand Function Test (AHFT) and the abilities to use a standard keyboard and mouse using the Assessment of Computer Task Performance (ACTP).
The KHFI included 11 performance test items to measure active ROM of the thumb, fingers, writs, forearms and elbows. The AHFT consisted of 10 test items to evaluate pure and applied strength and dexterity in a variety of hand tasks.
The results of the study are quite encouraging:
- 73% of participants have been trained in touch typing and used the computer an average of 18 hours per week
- Participants with rheumatoid arthritis have comparable skills to non-impaired individuals in terms of keyboarding speed.
- Participants who were trained in touch typing had faster typing speeds than those using a visually-guided (“hunt and peck”) method, with or without rheumatoid arthritis.
- The ability of using a mouse is slightly impaired in workers with RA and the impact of this impairment on job productivity still needs to be evaluated.
These results are indeed good news for those with rheumatoid arthritis. Previous studies have reported that rheumatoid arthritis can impair people’s abilities to perform their jobs so that those suffering from this condition have higher rates of work disability, premature work cessation, and reduced hours on the job.
However, this study indicates that computer work is not greatly affected by rheumatoid arthritis According to figures from the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of workers using computers increased from 46% in 1993 to 56% in 2003 with figures expected to continue climbing higher.
Thus people with rheumatoid arthritis skilled in computer work especially touch typing need actually not fear for significant impairment that may cost their jobs.
According to lead author Dr. Nancy Baker:
“With more arthritic workers using computers, understanding the associations between hand function impairment and peripheral device (keyboard and mouse) limitations is essential and the focus of our current study.”
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