Saturday, November 8, 2008

Arthritis and Joint Pain

My almost-4-year-old daughter visits the school library on Tuesdays and brings home a book (assuming we've remembered to send back the previous week's book).

Last week's choice was essentially an alphabet book, and instead of a story, there was an animal to illustrate each letter of the alphabet as well as a diagram that demonstrated the American Sign Language sign for each animal.

I took Signed English for two semesters in college, back when we expected my mother to eventually need people to sign to her to communicate. Instead, she had surgery a few years back to get cochlear implants that greatly improved her hearing and there's been no need for my family to learn how to sign for her.

But when I was pregnant, I started reading up on how infants can learn to sign well before they are able to speak and we signed often to Ellie pretty much from the start even though she was unlikely to sign back much before she was a year old. Turns out, Ellie was a very early speaker. (For the record, her first word was neither "mama" nor "dada." She first said "ki-hee" (kitty) at about eight months or so. And if we were slow to figure out what she was saying, she would clearly point at our cat and say it. :) But Ellie did learn a number of signs, including "milk," "more" and "all done" which were very handy for us when she communicated them.

So Ellie was in the bathroom and wanted her new book read to her, and Scott got stumped at the signs for the animal names so I got excited about signing them to her. There was bird, cat, duck, elephant ... all the way to newt, which stumped me for a minute until I realized that the diagram was showing fingerspelling n-e-w-t. And the "e" got me because you touch the pads of your fingers to where your fingers join your hand, folding your thumb horizontally too.

Wow, that hurt. Despite the fact that I have little to no visible swelling on my knuckles and fingers these days, I still have dexterity issues due to joint pain in my hands and wrists.

And it made me wonder -- how do people who need to sign for whatever reason manage if/when they develop arthritis in their hands? I remember one of my grandparents especially having very arthritic looking fingers and hands. The sign language thing was moot since she didn't use sign language, but what about the people who do? Surely communicating with one's hands doesn't prevent arthritis as one ages, does it?

A quick Google search didn't really help me find much of an answer. I found one person who apparently likes to tell people she signs with an accent to explain her variance in signing. Clever. :) But not much else.

If anyone reading my blog knows more about this, please leave me a comment or send me email. I'm very curious.

1 comment:

Kristi said...

Interesting observation! I had very similar thoughts one time after a very long non-stop flight. While I was waiting for my luggage I was moaning to myself how sore my (non-arthritic) hands were from lugging the luggage, carry-ons, car seat, child, etc. down airport terminals. Then I looked over and observed a person I recognized as a fellow passenger. She was signing a very animated conversation to her companions. I couldn't help but stare as she went on and on because I had no idea how she could do that after such a long day of much physical hand toil. I still don't know!