Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a chronic neurological illness and it most commonly affects adults in the prime time of their life (in the twenties and thirties) when they are gainfully employed. MS has a very variable course and each may have different types and severity of symptoms and different degrees of disabilities. People with a mild form of the disease with minimal symptoms that are not evident clinically may be able to continue their usual employment.
Those who have the relapsing-remitting type of MS or those who have some level of disability will have to evaluate their functional capabilities and plan a strategy with regards to their employment.
After being diagnosed with MS, do not take any hasty decisions immediately or during a relapse, as these are the periods of uncertainty. Take some time to come to terms with your condition and talk to someone close to you such as a family member, a friend or a psychological counsellor.
The symptoms of MS and severity are unpredictable and depend on the extent of the nerve damages. Some of the symptoms that could affect your work include fatigue, difficulty in standing or walking for too long, difficulty in bending, lifting or carrying things, need to go to the toilet more often, difficulty in concentrating and memory.
Discussing your MS with the employer
Individuals with MS may have to discuss their diagnosis of MS with their employer so that their special needs can be met. You may want to prepare on what to speak, what questions you may get from the employer, how you will answer them, and what support you want to seek from the company. The other points that your company may want to know include the treatment you are getting, how MS will affect your work, what adjustments you may need, and reassurance that your condition will not significantly affect your skills and productivity.
However, it is a personal choice to disclose this information and may depend on numerous factors such as your relationship with your employer, the nature and atmosphere of work.
Adjustments at workplace
If you are finding it difficult to manage your work, then you may need to ask for some adjustments at the workplace. These changes will necessitate that you disclose your condition to your employer. The adjustments may be to your job, or work environment, or sometimes both. Some of the adjustments that you can request include:
- Request to work on lower floors if mobility and accessibility is an issue
- More periods of breaks
- Someplace to rest for short duration during the working day
- A chair or stool to sit on if your job was needing you to stand earlier
- Work in a cooler area if your symptoms are increasing with heat
- Working closer to toilet if the bladder and bowel control is an issue
- Flexible working hours
- Work from home option
- Allocating some of your work to somebody else or providing a support staff
- Transferring you to another suitable post
- If eyesight is a problem, use visual aids such as magnifying screens
- During flare-ups and after that, convince short periods of leave to recuperate
- Providing you tools and equipment to deal with work-related issues
In most instances, these alterations are inexpensive, but they can allow people with MS to continue their work for a long duration.
Travel to workplace and parking
If the journey to work is a long one either by public transport or by driving, you may feel exhausted by the time you reach the work location. Consider some changes to the way you travel to work, such as:
- If possible, adjust the work timings to avoid peak hour traffic
- Use car-pooling option with your colleagues
- Use taxis or rickshaws on days you find driving is difficult
- Change the car to one with an automatic gearbox
Access to work
You may need to make some adjustments to your work environment and take the help of an occupational therapist if needed to make it easy for you to work.
- Evaluate if there are any physical barriers to your work (such as stairs, heavy doors, etc.) and how you can make adjustments to them
- Assess what challenges you have with accessing or moving around in your workplace (e.g., Long distances between offices or meeting rooms)
- Are there any solutions to getting around in the office (e.g., wheelchair, Segway)
- If your work involves using a computer, try the available accessibility options
- Organise your working area such that most of the things are easily available without unwanted bending and walking
- Maintain proper posture and do not stay in one position for a long time
Take care of yourself at work
- Do the most important work when you are strongest
- Take regular breaks to avoid fatigue
- Set aside a regular time to rest every day
- Eat a well-balanced diet and do not skip food at work
- Do not get stressed unnecessarily as stress worsens symptoms
- Do some meditation and practice few relaxation techniques to calm down when stressed
- Maintain a diary to see what factors make you stressed or fatigued at work
- Plan regular holidays to rejuvenate and keep yourself motivated waiting for the next vacation
Take Support at Work
- Use the services of the occupational health department and any doctor/healthcare professional there to manage any immediate health problems at work
- Occupational therapist if available may help to analyse your work environment and suggest changes to make working easier for you
- If there is a workplace psychologist or counsellor, take counselling when needed, especially when facing stress and mood issues
- Always be in constant touch with the Human Resources personnel at the workplace, as they need to understand your special needs and periods of absence
- If you are a member of any trade/work union, their representatives can help you in getting your special work requirements and disability benefits from the management
Part-time work can be a good option for few MS patients. The other option is to become self-employed, which means greater responsibility, but you can control your work environment as you are the owner. When employment becomes difficult, you can still work and contribute in indirect ways such as volunteering for NGOs, teaching poor kids, etc.
Multiple Sclerosis can interfere with a person’s capability to work or continue performing the same job in the same way. With some adjustments, most people will continue to be productive and work well, if not full-time, at least part-time or as consultants.
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- Multiple Sclerosis International Federation. Living with MS – Education and employment. Accessed at http://www.msif.org/living-with-ms/education-and-employment/ on 2 May 2016. •
- Multiple Sclerosis Society. Work, MS and you. Accessed at https://www.mssociety.org.uk/ms-support/practical-and-financial-help/work-and-money/employment on 3 May 2016.
- National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Resources & Support – Employment. Accessed at http://www.nationalmssociety.org/Resources-Support/Employment on 3 May 2016.
- Multiple Sclerosis Trust. At work with MS. Accessed at https://www.mstrust.org.uk/understanding-ms/living-ms/work-ms on 2 May 2016.