7 Things to Do to Support a Loved One with Psoriasis
Life with psoriasis can be challenging and stressful. If you have a family member or friend with the condition, you might feel helpless as you watch them try to manage their symptoms. But you can actually do a lot to make life easier for them.
Here are seven ways you can support your loved one through the ups and downs of their psoriasis journey. (And if you’re living with psoriasis like I am, feel free to share these strategies with your family and friends who want to help but don’t know how.)
1. Learn the basics of psoriasis.
It’s difficult to be supportive if you don’t really know what your loved one is dealing with on a daily basis, so educating yourself about psoriasis is key. (This Psoriasis 101 infographic is a good place to start.)
Psoriasis is a chronic, immune-mediated disease characterized most often by dry, itchy, flaky patches of skin. It develops when a person’s overactive immune system causes their skin cells to renew every few days, instead of once a month like other people’s do.
There’s no cure for psoriasis, but many therapies are available, including topical treatments, oral medications, phototherapy, and biologics, which are drugs designed to target specific parts of the immune system.
One of the many myths and misunderstandings about psoriasis is that it’s contagious, but it’s not. That’s something Tanya Nino, M.D., a dermatologist with Providence St. Joseph Hospital, in Orange County, California, always stresses to her psoriasis patients and their loved ones.
“Psoriasis can be an embarrassing skin condition and can affect a person’s self-esteem,” Nino says. You can show them how important they are to you by making an effort to understand exactly what they’re going through and ways to manage the condition together.
2. Go along to doctor’s appointments.
As anyone who’s had a chronic disease knows, it can be an overwhelming experience to go to the doctor’s office. There are so many steps: making an appointment, driving, parking, getting into a gown, having blood drawn, listening to directions on how to take or use the prescription—not to mention going to the pharmacy and all the follow-up.
Having another person in the room to provide emotional and physical support may be very helpful for your family member or friend. For example, having a second set of ears in the room can be helpful to clarify any instructions the doctor gives. And if there’s a procedure that has to be done, such as an injection, having a loved one hold their hand can be very reassuring.
3. Avoid commenting negatively about their skin.
People with psoriasis on their face, scalp, or hands, for example, may feel self-conscious about their appearance and find socializing difficult when symptoms flare.
You can help someone with psoriasis by not staring at their skin or talking about it. And if you do comment on it, make your remark a positive one. “My family and friends don’t really comment on my skin, and if they do, they might say, ‘Hey, it’s looking good,’” says Sarah J., 28, who’s from the east coast of Australia. “They don’t really care about it, and that’s the best medicine.”
It’s important for your loved one to know that you accept them, no matter what’s going on with their skin.
4. Help them manage their stress.
A psoriasis flare may be triggered by a specific event. Triggers vary from person to person, and some of the most common are smoking, certain medications, cold temperatures, and trauma to the skin, such as from scratching. Stress is also a common trigger, and it can become a vicious cycle, since a psoriasis flare itself can increase stress.
I have psoriasis, and if I’m feeling overwhelmed, someone reaching out can make a huge difference. Recently, a friend suggested an alternative therapy she thought might help me to relax during what was a particularly busy time in my life. The fact that she was aware I was under pressure, and wanted to help me find new ways to unwind, made me feel grateful to have people looking out for me.
You don’t have to have a miracle cure—there’s no such thing. Simply being there to go for a walk or to practice yoga or breathing exercises with your loved one with psoriasis could help to reduce their stress.
5. Offer practical help.
At its worst, a psoriasis flare may be extremely itchy or painful, and sometimes the affected areas of skin may crack and bleed. Your loved one could also be dealing with fatigue or joint pain if they also have psoriatic arthritis. When symptoms are painful or debilitating, having someone on hand to provide practical assistance with chores around the home, running errands, or looking after the kids can be invaluable.
Nino agrees that practical support is crucial. This can take many forms, including helping your loved one remember to take their medications and attend healthcare appointments.
There can also be a lot of paperwork involved in getting medications like biologic injectables to be approved and delivered to one’s home. You may want to offer to help with some of the paperwork, to make phone calls to the pharmacy, or to be available at their home to pick up the delivery and put medications in the fridge for them.
You might also help with administering topical treatments. For example, when someone has psoriasis on their back or their scalp, applying topical treatments can be tricky. The simple act of lending a hand can help immensely. “Literally anyone in my family would help put some cream on my back if I asked,” Sarah says. For an extra thoughtful gesture, you may want to offer your help unsolicited so your loved one doesn’t have to ask.
6. Support their efforts to live a healthy lifestyle.
Psoriasis treatment isn’t only about taking prescribed medications; practicing healthy habits is important, too. Many people find that their symptoms improve when they change their habits for the better. Regular exercise, refraining from smoking, and drinking alcohol in moderation can all help to reduce symptoms and keep the condition managed. Eating a healthy diet helps support overall health and maintaining a healthy weight, too.
Because of the link between psoriasis and inflammation, your loved one may be interested in following an anti-inflammatory diet. This is based on the theory that psoriasis can be triggered by inflammatory foods, explains Emma Gould, a UK-based registered nutritional therapist who specializes in psoriasis and other skin conditions.
Following a new nutrition plan can take some getting used to, so Gould’s best advice to family and friends is to support their loved ones in a nonjudgmental way. For example, don’t stop inviting them over for dinner—just ask them ahead of time if they’ve eliminated anything from their diet, and what they’d like to eat instead. If you live with someone with psoriasis, you can try cooking some new anti-inflammatory recipes together.
7. Be kind and understanding.
Psoriasis is a tough disease to live with, so empathy and understanding go a long way, says Tina Bhutani, M.D., a psoriasis community expert and co-director of the Psoriasis and Skin Treatment Center at the University of California San Francisco.
“Since this is a lifelong condition, those diagnosed with it may endure flares throughout their life,” Bhutani says. “It’s unpredictable and frustrating, but your support and kind words can make it easier for someone to cope.”
Pay attention to your loved one’s preferences. They may want to talk about their symptoms and how they’re affecting their emotions, which means providing a patient ear. On the other hand, they might want to talk about anything but the disease. In that case, you can help them take their mind off all things psoriasis by sharing your challenges and experiences.
“It really boils down to love and understanding,” Sarah says. So, keep listening and keep asking your family member or friend how you can provide the support they need most.
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