A mobile app to support teens and young adults with arthritis self-isolating in the wake of COVID-19 has been launched by the charity Versus Arthritis.
The Arthritis Tracker – which provides 24/7 access to trusted information and advice for young people between 13 and 25 – will help them to rate and record their arthritis symptoms in seconds and track their pain, medication side effects, fatigue, physical activity, sleep and emotional well-being.
An estimated 2.98 million people under the age of 35 in the UK are living with a musculoskeletal (MSK) condition like arthritis. This app will support those aged 13-25 living with the pain, fatigue and isolation of arthritis, whilst also dealing with the everyday challenges of growing up. Many take immunosuppressant drugs and are amongst the 1.5 million currently having to shield during COVID-19.
The experience of self-shielding and social distancing can have negative impacts on the health and condition of people with arthritis, with anxiety and reduced physical activity causing a flare in symptoms.
With restrictions in place for face-to-face appointments during the pandemic and with young people finding it difficult to explain their symptoms, it is crucial that accurate information of the health of young people with arthritis can be reported to healthcare professionals charged with their care.
Young people were fundamental to the app’s creation and development, with the idea coming from 20-year old Hope Graham from Northern Ireland. Along with tracking their arthritis symptoms and well-being the app also connects them with other teenagers and young people who know what it is like to live with arthritis.
16-year-old Jasmine Leslie has had juvenile idiopathic arthritis since she was seven and is still trying to find a treatment that works for her. She is isolating at home with her family in Cornwall. Speaking on the launch of Arthritis Tracker, she said:
“I’ve been testing the app during its trial phase and have found it really helpful. I had been trying to find something like it for a while, to understand how different things might impact my condition.
“Stress makes everything worse for me, and the current lockdown has been hard. I had to stop going to school before my friends and worried that I was missing out. I’m also finding it harder to sleep at the moment. The app’s advice on stress and sleep has really helped me through this. The tracking also helps remind me that even if I’m feeling rubbish one day, I am having good days too. This keeps me more positive.
“I’m taking part in a clinical trial in Bristol and my next appointment is coming up, but it’s going to be a phone call instead now. I think the app will definitely help with sharing information in these appointments.”
Over 100 young people and health professionals have contributed to how the app was designed and built, and it will continue to be updated with users’ feedback.
Sophie Mullen, Digital Engagement Officer at Versus Arthritis who led on the app’s creation and development alongside young people, said:
“Arthritis is too often dismissed as an old person’s disease, but it doesn’t discriminate by age – two thirds of people with arthritis are under 65. At Versus Arthritis we want to ensure nobody with arthritis is left alone. Our app provides much needed additional support which young people can access anywhere, including from the comfort and safety of their home.
“Technology is helping us bridge the gap to those who were already isolated, and who face more restrictions to their life because of COVID-19. Most will never have met other young people their age with the condition, who understand what they’re going through. This app will help us change that.
“We wanted young people’s voices front and centre throughout this project and their contribution has been essential: from idea, to prototype to the app we have today.”
Dr Janet McDonagh, a paediatric and adolescent rheumatologist in Manchester, said:
“The Arthritis Tracker that young people and Versus Arthritis have created is great – I am actively encouraging young people in my clinic to use it.
“It has huge potential to enhance communication between young people and health professionals, allowing us to better understand the impact arthritis is having on the young person’s life and then to treat them more effectively.
“Since the COVID-19 outbreak, the app has even greater potential. It can be difficult to assess young people on the phone so using their app summaries as a prompt or by sharing on email beforehand, it will really help these phone consultations.”
Arthritis Tracker is available on the Versus Arthritis website and to download for iPhone on the Apple App Store and for Android on Google Play.