Overcoming Challenges of a Neurodegenerative Condition

Overcoming the Challenges of Neurodegenerative Conditions in The Workplace

People can be faced with all sorts of challenges in the workplace when dealing with a neurodegenerative condition. We look here into the effects it can have on the EU Economy and ways that these challenges can be overcome.

Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and Work

Most people with MS are in education or employment at time of diagnosis and 90% have a work history. People with MS who are in work report being healthier, more financially secure and more socially active than those who are unemployed.

Up to 80 per cent of people living with MS stop working within 15 years of the onset of the condition. At the same time 30 per cent of individuals with a significant level of disability remain in employment.

People with MS lose an average of 18 working years, based on a retirement age of 60. If one worker with MS draws Employment Support Allowance (ESA) for 18 years the total cost will be £61,000*. If 20,000 people are on ESA benefits for 18 years the cost to the welfare system is over £1.2 billion. This takes no account of the income tax which these workers would be paying.

With 700,000 people experiencing MS in the EU and no consistent reporting of sickness and different benefit systems it is difficult to come to a figure of the cost to the EU. But, if we use the UK example and multiply by 7 and allow for varying benefits then they could well come close to 25 billion euros.

*Based on figures from 2011

A Need for Change

Overcoming Neurodegenerative Conditions at Work

Keeping people in work or getting them back to work quicker if they do go off sick is now known to be a key factor in protecting their long term health and wellbeing. Of course there will always be occasions when people are unable to work or require time away to recuperate, but far from being something to avoid, we now know that work can be good for people.

Working as part of a treatment plan can provide structure, social contact and the support that an individual requires for a successful return to work, as well as maintaining a source of independence.

The Power of Psycho-Social Model

Individuals tend to make a decision early on in their illness about whether or not they will remain in or return to work. The decision can be heavily influenced by a combination of what medical staff say about a possible return to work, what family and friends say and the response of their employer. Many people with mental health conditions are often told not to consider work as part of their treatment.

Vocational Management/Disability Management

Vocational rehabilitation is whatever helps someone with a health problem to stay at or return to and remain in work. It is an idea and an approach as much as an intervention or a service. This includes a coordinated effort and taking into account individual needs, work environment, enterprise needs and legal responsibilities

Effective vocational rehabilitation requires both work-focused healthcare and workplaces that are accommodating. A large majority of people with common health problems can be helped to return to work by following a few basic principles of healthcare and workplace management.


Accommodations can cover so many things, but with conditions like MS we must not just focus on the obvious presenting features, we must look at things like flexible working to help with fatigue. A work buddy to help with the anxiety and depression that may well be present can be really helpful for an individual with an impairment.

A car parking space near to the office can be beneficial to avoid the individual having to walk too far before starting their days work. An up to date sickness absence policy can be crucial, and one that does not make absence through MS a disciplinary offence.

Take into account that it can cost around £30,000 to recruit a new member of staff (CIPD 2014), so putting accommodations in place is good value for money!

Think about job modification in which some tasks are temporarily or permanently eliminated and perhaps replaced with others. Or a change to the work environment or job tasks that enables the individual to participate in workplace activities safely and productively.

Historical Attitudes from Health Professionals

  • Cultural Resistance - it is not appropriate to judge individuals ability to work or contribute to the economy
  • Not our concern - usually the health departments don’t pick up the costs of unemployment so it shouldn’t be their responsibility to get people back to work
  • Limited Tools - medical staff at all levels do not have the knowledge or skills to give advice to individual patients on when or how to return to work
  • Low Expectations - some professionals don’t think it is important for people to work or believe that they would be better off on benefits!
  • Lack of Knowledge - enormous and growing evidence base that medical staff are rarely trained in this area.

Work foundation ready to work 2011
Black, Frost. Health at Work an Independent Review of Sickness
Waddell, Burton, Kendall. Vocational Rehabilitation - What Works for Whom and When
Greater Manchester Public Health research into VR and Economic Growth 2013