Managing multiple sclerosis to stay employed

November 23, 2015 Bobbie (Barbara) J. Severson, ARNP

You love your job or you hate it. There are many points on a love-hate continuum where you might find yourself on any given day with regard to how you feel about work and how capable you are at getting the job done. Maybe you have a great boss, extra staffing, the right pay and good vacation. Flip side: You have a micro-managing boss, a bully in the workplace, staff layoffs and an uneven workload. How can you possibly survive? Add another variable: You have multiple sclerosis (MS). This may or may not be a big deal. However, when confronted with managing MS at work, many people find themselves in a dilemma about selecting a survival plan that best meets their needs professionally and personally. People often ask:

  • Do I quit my job or stay? 
  • Should I reduce my work hours? 
  • Can I work from home part of the week?
  • Should I go on disability because of my MS? 
  • Do I tell my supervisor and coworkers I have MS?

A recent study examined decision-making and other factors surrounding changes in employment for people with MS. The study’s aim was to increase awareness of key symptoms and factors leading people with MS to reduce employment or leave the workforce. The hope is that with effective MS symptom management, people may have enhanced productivity and continue working longer. This in turn could improve their health-related quality of life and reduce the negative psycho-social effects of job loss or underemployment.

The study was small. It included 27 adults whose mean age was 46. The mean duration of MS was 10 years, and 70 percent of the people in the study were women. The participants had a range of occupations.

The most common MS symptoms they cited were:
  • Fatigue
  • Sensory problems, including tingling and numbness
  • Problems walking
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Visual limitations
  • Bladder or bowel problems
  • Decreased fine motor skills
  • Sensitivity to heat or cold 

In addition, several people in the study cited fear and stress as triggers for making changes in their employment situation.

The effects of MS symptoms and changes in employment status may result in financial stress, feelings of lower self-worth, depression and changes in family dynamics. To optimize your professional and personal survival, talk to your MS team about work and MS issues. Start this conversation early and keep it going because MS and work demands can change.

If your MS center has a vocational counselor, seek this person out. Be proactive. Early intervention may result in workplace accommodations that result in continued employment.

In addition, early symptom management means better health and quality of life. Opportunities exist. The first step begins with you and your MS team working together to find the best solutions for you.

Article on study:

Understanding Drivers of Employment Changes in a Multiple Sclerosis Population

Authors: Karin s. Coyne, PhD, MPH; Audra N. Boscoe, PhD; Brooke M. Currie, MPH; Amanada S. Landrian, BS; Todd L. Wandstrat, RPh, Pharm D

Publication: International Journal of MS Care. Sept/Oct 2015. Volume 17, Number 5, pp245-252

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