Arthritis & The Future of Scrapbooking

May is National Arthritis Awareness Month. To most people, arthritis is something that their grandparents or aging parents get.

At our house, arthritis has a different face:

Bridget arthritisOur daughter Bridget was diagnosed in 2011, at age 7, with Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis. Her rheumatologist said she’s probably had it since she was very tiny based on the deteriorated state of some of her joints when she was diagnosed. Because of the severity of her condition (she also has another serious auto-immune disease called scleroderma that was diagnosed at the same time), we must travel two hours each way every four weeks to the local children’s hospital for Bridget to receive infusion treatment with multiple medications.

So every day is arthritis awareness day at our house. But what has this got to do with the scrapbooking industry? A look at demographic and disease statistical data will tell you – a whole lot.

Bridget, as a juvenile, is one of only about 300,000 cases of children in the U.S. with arthritis. Arthritis risk goes up with age, and the U.S. population as a whole is aging. In the 2010 census, 18% of the U.S. population was over age 60. By the year 2030, that percentage is expected to rise to 25%.

At the same time, the incidence of arthritis in the population is increasing for several reasons (rising rates of auto-immune disorders and obesity are the prime culprits). Recent CDC data reported 22.7% of the population over age 18 had been diagnosed with arthritis – 52.5 million people. By 2030, the CDC estimates that the demographic age shift and the increased incidence of the disorders will combine to an estimated 25% of the total adult population (67 million people) having an arthritis diagnosis. They warn however that this estimate may be low due to the out of control rise of obesity in the U.S.

All of this adds up to the creation of a huge population in this country that will have compromised hand strength and motor skills. And because arthritis risk is increased for women, 60% of that compromised population will be female – the core market of the crafting industry.

Motor skills – especially fine motor skills – are central to crafting of all kinds. This reality hit especially close to home for me as I have watched my mother, who has suffered for years from arthritis, gradually give up all of her crafts as her hands deteriorated. She taught me to love crafting so much that I now make my living in the industry, and now is unable to do it herself.

As an industry, we cannot prevent entirely the loss of customers to declining health, of course. But can we continue to serve customers – and help them enjoy what they love – longer as they lose motor skills to encroaching arthritis? If we can’t, we face the certainty of a shrinking market base in the coming decades.

Accommodating motor skill deficits in scrapbooking can be approached from a number of ways. The most obvious way is to design grip-friendly tools. Scissors, trimmers, die cut machines and punches are the immediate candidates that come to mind but some less obvious candidates could benefit from a motor skill friendly redesign, too. One thing that surprised me that I never would have thought of was that my daughter struggles with button trigger spray bottles. Bottles with lever triggers – such as most household cleaners come in – are much easier on the hands.

A simple shape change can make a difference for those with motor grip issues. Take a seemingly simple product like stamp blocks, for instance. Lawn Fawn’s beautiful blocks, while heavy, are designed with a wavy edge that makes them easier to grip and control than a square, straight edged stamp block.

Another thing to consider is project design, and trends. Fancy, detailed handwork techniques are beautiful to look at – but not motor skill friendly. To keep the industry as inclusive and accommodating as possible, we need to provide a broad range of styles that serve a range of motor skill levels. Project Life and kits with plug & play elements like stickers, die cuts and pre-cut photo mats are not just great for quick scrapbooking. They are also low on motor skill requirements.

Are you ready to serve a motor-skill impaired customer? Will it impact your business if a percentage of your customers lose their motor skills? The next five years are the time to answer those questions, as the demographic tide starts to turn and a huge chunk of your customer base begins to age into high risk territory for arthritis.

The question of whether the industry is prepared to serve motor skill impaired customers isn’t just about the future of the industry I love to me. It’s also an intensely personal question for me. In addition to my daughter having juvenile arthritis, I have Lupus, another auto-immune disorder that causes arthritis symptoms in most of its patients. I’ve been lucky so far that my arthritis symptoms are relatively mild and have not interfered with my crafting, but I know at some point that will inevitably change.

I hope when that day comes that the industry I love will be prepared to help me continue taking part in the craft that I love.


29 Responses to Arthritis & The Future of Scrapbooking

  1. kathyinmn May 27, 2015 at 11:29 pm #

    No mention of apps here, but wondering how they will play into this. I find the Project Life app super simple to use, drag and drop on a touch screen doesn’t involve the dexterity that using a mouse does for a digital layout. Plus Siri works incredibly well for journaling. I’ve even journaled while biking on a trainer or walking on my treadmill-without typing! Never thought about its use when a person lacks dexterity and no it doesn’t involve actual paper product, but it would let someone continue to easily make layouts.

    • Nancy Nally June 4, 2015 at 10:39 am #

      Definitely digital would be a way to extend the ability to make pages and record memories, but to me it’s an entirely different process than papercrafting. I enjoy both but view them as separate activities so I wouldn’t be satisfied replacing one with the other.

  2. Candy Spiegel May 27, 2015 at 11:30 pm #

    Great article, I know of many customers who have trouble with tape runners,

    • Nancy Nally June 4, 2015 at 10:41 am #

      Oooh, good point about the tape runners. I struggle with the larger tape guns because I have problems with grip strength from my lupus.

  3. Barb in AK May 28, 2015 at 12:35 am #

    Thank you, Nancy, for that very important article. I have been tagged as a “senior” for a few years, and there are days I can really feel it! Opening caps to the stickles, undo, glue bottles, etc are beginning to be a challenge. Fussy hand-cutting is pretty much going out the window for me. My scrapping has become very basic these days. I am anxious to see how scrapbooking companies accommodate us down the road. I hope they are already puttin plans into action.

  4. gabmcann May 28, 2015 at 4:50 am #

    What a great article – thanks Nancy. Such a sweet picture of your daughter – and what a strong little girl to have to go through all of that

    • Nancy Nally June 4, 2015 at 11:40 am #

      She is my hero, Gab! She just bounces right through it all! Amazing!

  5. Linda Briel May 28, 2015 at 5:22 am #

    Thank you for this article, Nancy! I have pretty much abandoned 12 x 12 paper scrapping because the finished albums are so darn heavy, and post bound albums needing extender posts – forget it. Stampin’ UP! clear blocks have been helpful too – they have a perimeter depression all the way around the sides that makes them easy to grip. I use ATG tape because the “gun” is easier to handle for me than the hand held tape runner size adhesive – but the tape guns are heavy, and I can see that being an issue in the future.

    Another point you may someday want to bring to the industry’s attention is aging eyesight. WHO decides that kit instructions should be printed in white on a light colored background in 6 point type?!

    • Audrey May 28, 2015 at 11:49 am #

      Amen! small white type on pale backgrounds has been a pet peeve of mine for some time now as my eyesight worsens.

    • Amber Milone June 3, 2015 at 10:55 pm #

      I really appreciate this article. I am still young being in my early 30’s and do not have arthritis but was diagnosed last year with fibromyalgia. Some days the pain in my wrists, shoulders, and hands are so bad I can barely grip anything. I actually switched to the vagabond for this reason.

  6. Marilyn E May 28, 2015 at 7:05 am #

    What a great article, thank you for sharing and opening my eyes! I guess I did not know how this has hit you personally, my thoughts and prayers to you and your family. I bet Bridget is a real trooper, bless her heart!

  7. Phyllis S May 28, 2015 at 7:59 am #

    Linda Brielle makes a good point. Add web sites and catalogs to the list! Stamping Up! seems to be unaware of or doesn’t care about the decreasing vision of customers. The next generation is running the Company and they just don’t get it so my money is going elsewhere

  8. Ellen "CardMonkey" Jarvis May 28, 2015 at 9:04 am #

    Thnak you, Nancy, for an important article. My heart goes out to your beautiful daughter as she faces the challenges of both arthritis and scleroderma. In a follow-up, it might be great to note those products or fixes for those with hand-strength issues.

    For example:

    1. An electronic cutter like the Brother Scan ‘n Cut is so easy to use, without a computer, and it takes away the need to fussy cut evn the most complex stamps.

    2. Electrified die-cutting and embossing machines such as the eBosser and Vagabond eliminate the need to grip and turm the handle of manual machines.

    3. A product like the hinged-lid MISTI takes away the need to handle acrylic blocks while stamping, and by allowing accurate positioning, restamping to get a complete impression makes stamping fun not frustrating.

    4. As an independent consultant for Close To My Heart, I help my arthritic customers modify their ink pads which have a patented positive-close (but difficult to open) cover by using a nail file to gently file down the cover’s locking nib.

    I’m sure your readers can provide more examples. Thank you again for your article!

    Ellen “CardMonkey” Jarvis

  9. littletoki May 28, 2015 at 9:27 am #

    This was a great post and something that I’ve never thought about in relation to scrapbooking. I crocheted little toys for a few years and decided to stop because of the toll it was taking on my hands. I was terrified of the idea of losing the ability to craft because of stiff and aching fingers. I hope manufactures take your advice and develop tools that not only are easier to use for those who are motor-skill impaired but help prevent these problems from developing in the first place. Thank you so much for this thoughtful post!

  10. dottiej27 May 28, 2015 at 9:35 am #

    This is an important post, Nancy. I also have arthritis and sometimes I feel like there are new limitations every day. My new favorite tools are tweezers. I have 4 different styles and use them constantly to assist with those finer motor skills. (Thank you, Julie Ebersole!) And your point about type sizes and package/instruction design is right on. I hate store shopping now because I can’t read the price tags. I will have to become one of those ladies with glasses on a string.

    But I am not sure I agree about industry styles being a big factor. I’ve cultivated my own style in scrapbooking since the beginning. It is simple, flat, and focused on the pictures. So as long as I can put on strong reading glasses, use a guillotine cutter and have blades and mats for my Silhouette to make great page titles, I am good. I consider myself a memory keeper and hope to be that all my life, one way or another. My grandkids can lift the albums for me.

  11. Verbena May 28, 2015 at 10:38 am #

    Nancy, such a timely post. My mother also was a crafter and could do everything from acryllic painting and tatting to knitting, sewing, and crocheting. Now her arthritic hands (at 101 years of age!) can no longer do these things. I am sure that I will eventually develop the same issues. I hope the industry responds and makes some of our supplies more friendly to these aging, crafting, baby boomer hands. Thank you for your post!

  12. Cindy deRosier May 28, 2015 at 11:41 am #

    Great post! I’ve been worrying about my future as a crafter lately. I’m 43 and was diagnosed with arthritis at 21. It’s not severe, but between that and my age-appropriate declining eyesight, it makes me think that I may have to start making some changes in order to enjoy this passion into my later years.

  13. Susan Elise Morton May 28, 2015 at 3:04 pm #

    Nancy ~ I am so sorry that your daughter has this medical problem and wish you the best. My niece, Katherine, also had juvenile arthritis. She is a young adult now and five years ago had open heart surgery. It was a complete surprise when she developed heart problems. I wanted to let you know because one of her doctors attributed her heart problems to the juvenile arthritis. I know this is very rare but wanted you to know just in case the information would help you all out in the future sometime. I pray you will never need the information.

  14. Clara May 28, 2015 at 6:57 pm #

    Another result of aging (not to mention those with degenerative retinal diseases as I have) is failing eyesight. It seems that so many people who design websites, blogs and product packaging are more interested in following the popular trend of using ridiculously small print and almost even worse, the trend of using light colors on other light colors making their things impossible to read. My husband who is a business consultant is always talking about how so many companies do not follow what should be the most basic rule of business which is to make it easy for customer to do business with them. When I shop in craft stores it amazes me that most packaging is so difficult to read due to their color choices. I love reading craft blogs, but I leave them immediately if they use small and difficult to read font styles. How difficult could it be to enlarge the font size on a blog!?! Probably no more difficult than it is to do in in an e-mail. And I also immediately leave craft websites that are not friendly to my eyesight. Another thing I see from most companies that put out stencils is that they package their white stencils with a while cardstock behind them. When I look at them online I can barely make out the design of the stencil. It would be so simple for them to choose any color of cardstock that would give contrast to put behind the stencil instead of the white. My thought when dealing with this kind of thing is, “Doesn’t anyone have any common sense anymore?”.

    As you have pointed out, ours is an aging society and businesses need to learn that!

  15. almasmom May 29, 2015 at 3:23 pm #

    Thank you for this thoughtful and informative article. Those of us who cope with arthritis on a daily basis are most grateful that you are raising awareness of the ever-increasing incidence of this chronic illness. As other commenters have pointed out, it’s just one of several age-related issues that will effect more and more crafters in the years ahead.

    I am so sorry to hear that your daughter has juvenile arthritis and scleroderma: what a difficult burden for you all, especially for Bridget.

  16. VickyR May 30, 2015 at 12:06 am #

    I would like to add that it is important not to make assumptions about immobilitity being an inevidable part of aging. A couple of years ago, I began to experience intense pain in my shoulders, arms and legs. My physician ordered a battery of tests which all had negative results, but the pain persisted and worsened. With luck I found an article written by a medical doctor who had experienced the same symptoms and with the same medical history as me, He had taken high doses of statins (to treat high cholesterol) for many years. When he changed his treatment for his high cholesterol, his pain went away. I took this article to my doctor and he changed my treatment for the high cholesterol. I am thankfully now mobile again. I will not detail my current cholesterol treatment, because what worked for me may not be appropriate for others. If you have taken high doses of statins for a long period, see your doctor and do not assume that you have arthritis without proper testing/diagnosis or that your pain is a natual part of aging.

    I am so thankful that my pain was reversible and hope that a cure for arthritis can be found soon.

  17. Kelly May 30, 2015 at 2:53 pm #

    Thank you for sharing your story in this article. I read it on one of “those days” when Arthur Itis was being cranky. The challenges you face every day seem daunting to me. Since I have read Scrapbookupdate for so many years, I realize you are an incredibly strong person and have great respect for you. I wish you the best.

  18. Victoria Reeve June 4, 2015 at 7:44 pm #

    Great article, Nancy. I own/run a scrapbooking store and have rheumatoid arthritis (diagnosed aged 7). Many craft products can be modified if you think about it but craft manufacturers need to be in the customers shoes to understand, I think. I am lucky I have had lots of OT time so am fairly good at adapting items to work for me or my customers

  19. Graciellie June 4, 2015 at 10:27 pm #

    Nancy thanks for sharing this article. I have struggled with the same issues and it certainly isn’t easy. I just transitioned to a hybrid / electric die cutting machine. That should help with my crafting. Crafting has been a great therapy and it’s made me a better person too, and it’s quite surprising to see the great amount of crafters that deal with autoimmune diseases… I’ve met too many. I do agree with you on how it depends on the industry that we can have access to healthier and more enjoyable crafting through products that make every creative task easier for us. Again, thanks for the article. Sending prayers and good thoughts your way. Hugs, Gracie.

  20. Deb Gokie June 5, 2015 at 10:26 am #

    Hi Nancy, I work with the National Arthritis Foundation and this article and all the comments were so interesting! We have an Ease of Use Commendation program at AF where we recognize manufacturers and products that make like easier for people living with all forms of arthritis. To receive the commendation, the products are tested at Georgia Tech Research Institute with an analysis and report for each product. I would love to have a conversation with you on this subject and see what brands are used for scrap-booking tools. I wasn’t sure how else to reach you, but I can be reached at Thank you Deb Gokie, Senior Director, Cause Development

  21. Tiffany June 6, 2015 at 1:03 am #

    What a good article, Nancy. My daughter was diagnosed with JIA when she was 2 1/2 years old and she’s now 13. Although she seems to have a mild case I wonder what life will be like for her as she ages. Thank you for sharing.

  22. Dawn June 18, 2015 at 7:57 pm #

    My sister had scleroderma as well. I hope your daughter continues to do well. Prayers that the arthritis and the scleroderma are controlled. Much love to your both. (My mom has RA, too).

  23. justtyra July 9, 2015 at 9:43 am #

    awesome and very relevant article!!!

  24. Jennifer A. August 24, 2015 at 4:19 pm #

    thank you for this post; I watched my Grandma abandon her pastimes of crocheting, embroidery, and word search puzzles as her arthritis and macular degeneration worsened over time, and I can only imagine how it felt for her.

    I’m only 46, but since I’m blind as a bat without my glasses, I am already having problems with reading small type. I had not thought about the possibility of having to change my crafting as I age, or worse yet, having to give up something I love doing altogether because of some current or future limitation. Hopefully the craft industry adapts to a larger, aging population of us people who will still want to craft (and still spend money on their products, lol).

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