Parkinson's in the Workplace

Friday, April 12, 2013

As we mentioned in our blog post yesterday, April is Parkinson's Awareness Month and an excellent opportunity for us to discuss how this condition may have an impact in the workplace. A significant number of people diagnosed with Parkinson's disease are under the age of 65 and may have to find ways to accommodate their symptoms while at work.

Similar to many other health conditions, the symptoms and limitations facing each individual may vary dramatically. Certain people living with Parkinson's may not require any accommodations, while others may require more attention. Having an open and honest discussion between an employee and manager is always the key to finding the right supports.

The most common symptom associated with Parkinson's is uncontrollable shaking or tremors, which can cause difficulties with motor skills at work. Assistive Technology can provide many solutions to these difficulties. There are many alternatives to the mouse and keyboard which can make using a computer easier to use for someone experiencing tremors. If typing becomes too strenuous or tremors are too violent then speech recognition software can help. Similarly, page turners and grip aids can help with other tasks while at a desk or workstation.

Fatigue is also a common symptom related to Parkinson's and very simple accommodations can help mitigate some of the weakness related to the condition. Scheduling periodic breaks and flexible work schedules can allow an employee to work when they are feeling at their best. Simply moving a desk closer to other work areas - like a printer or restroom - can also serve to reduce fatigue.  Using a scooter or similar aid can also make travelling to and around the office easier.

Problems with concentration and focus are also related to Parkison's, whether it be from the lack of dopamine production in the brain or because of sleep pattern problems. An office or workspace which is quiet can help remove distractions, and written reminders and scheduled interruptions can help an employee struggling with concentration stay on task. Providing clear, written instructions and prioritizing job tasks can also make it easier to focus on pertinent activities.

As you can see, almost all of these accommodations require little or no cost. They just require a different perspective and open attitude to how to help an employee succeed. For those accommodations which may be costlier - like a mobility aid or assistive technology - there are funding supports available to employers and employees in Alberta.

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